The median nerve is a sensory and motor nerve running along your arm that helps you move your hands and fingers. It goes through the carpal tunnel, which is a narrow passageway in your wrist. This nerve can become compressed due to repetitive hand motions, irregular anatomy or health problems. If this were to happen, you might experience tingling, numbness or weakness in your hand brought on by carpal tunnel syndrome.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Also called median nerve compression, this condition can be brought on by the following:
- Repetitive tasks that involve working the hands and wrist, such as typing, performing assembly line work or using power tools that cause vibration.
- Repetitive grasping movements or impact from sports.
- If there was trauma to the hand or wrist, such as swelling, a sprain, a dislocation or a fracture.
- Medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, obesity and hypothyroidism.
- Flexing or extending the wrist for prolonged periods. For example, when driving or pushing a shopping cart.
Who Is At Risk For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Median nerve compression can affect anyone, but certain groups are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. You may have a higher risk of getting this condition if you are:
- Female: Women are three times more likely than men to get it because they have smaller carpal tunnels, so it is easier for the nerve to get compressed.
- Over the Age of 40: In older people, their nerves and muscles weaken with time.
- Pregnant or Menopausal: The changes in body fluid cause fluid retention, which may then increase the pressure within the carpal tunnel.
- Diabetes or Other Metabolic Disorders: These conditions directly affect the body’s nerves and make them more susceptible to compression.
- Inflammatory Conditions: People who live with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. This is because synovial expansion, joint erosions and ligamentous laxity result in compression of the median nerve due to increased intracarpal pressure.
- Work Habits: Someone who regularly works with vibrating tools or on an assembly line that requires prolonged or repetitive wrist flexing.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often include:
- Tingling, burning or itching numbness in your palm, thumb, index or middle fingers
- Fingers feeling fuzzy or swollen
- Weakness in your hand
- Trouble pinching and holding things
- Dropping objects
These signs and symptoms often come on gradually and persist for months without worsening. In addition, they can come and go based on the time of day, your activity or wrist position. Pain and discomfort can also occur with the onset of numbness and tingling. With that said, remember that pain without these sensations is not usually carpal tunnel syndrome.
Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your physician may lightly tap the palm side of your wrist or ask you to flex it. If you feel a tingling sensation radiating outward, the median nerve is highly likely to be compressed, and you may have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Electromyograms, nerve conduction studies and imaging tests such as x-rays, ultrasounds or MRIs also give your doctor a better look at your bones and nerves to confirm the diagnosis.
Non-Surgical and Surgical Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Going through your daily activities with median nerve compression can be difficult, but the good news is that plenty of interventions are available.
If your condition is still in its early stages and is known to be brought on by repetitive motion, then making lifestyle changes and taking a break from the activity causing you pain can help. Stretching and nerve gliding exercises are also helpful in relieving symptoms and nerve compression.
Your physician may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and wrist bracing at night to manage the pressure on your median nerve, curb the swelling or eliminate the numbness. However, note that these measures are more effective in patients with mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, these can only relieve you of your symptoms but not treat their underlying cause.
In more severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, surgery may be needed to cut the ligament pressing on the median nerve and relieve pressure. This may be performed through an open or endoscopic technique.
Get Personalized Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment At Georgia Bone & Joint
If you are experiencing difficulty with gripping, thumb pain and weakness in the hand, don’t delay seeking medical treatment. We understand that pain in your hand can make even the simplest activities challenging, so our hand and wrist surgeons are here to treat your hand condition and, most importantly, let you enjoy your hobbies, work and life again.