Carpal tunnel syndrome is numbness, tingling, pain and weakness in one or both hands. It is caused by compression of the median nerve as it passes the wrist. This specific nerve innervates the thumb and first three fingers.
What is Carpal Tunnel?
The carpal tunnel is an area of the wrist made up of several tendons from the forearm. These tendons create a tunnel, which allows the median nerve to run from the wrist, into the hand. Here, it controls the movement and sensation of four of the five fingers of the hand (all except the little finger). This tunnel is very small and when the nerve rubs against the tunnel roof, it causes the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
The Causes of Carpal Tunnel
The main cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is continued pressure on the nerve. This can occur when the nerve becomes inflamed or swollen, or the carpal tunnel becomes smaller. Repeated wrist motions, particularly movements where the wrist is flexed, can make the tunnel smaller and impinge the nerve.
Certain illnesses have also been known to cause swelling of the median nerve and in the canal, including hypothyroidism, diabetes and pregnancy.
The Symptoms of a Carpal Tunnel
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome range in severity and type of pain sensation. Generally, symptoms include numbness, tingling, weakness or a shock-like pain down into the first four fingers of the hand. If the little finger of the hand includes this pain, the symptoms may be caused by something other than carpal tunnel syndrome.
Usually, the symptoms will start at night and you will awaken at night with pain and numbness in the hand. Moving the hand and wrist can help alleviate these symptoms. Symptoms are also reproducible with certain movements and positions.
The Treatment of Carpal Tunnel
Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome varies from person to person and depending on the severity of the symptoms. Although surgery is the cure, people often prefer to try conservative measures before advancing to more invasive approaches. Wrist splints are effective in preventing symptoms and treating carpal tunnel by preventing the wrist from falling forward. This keeps the carpal tunnel open and stops the median nerve from rubbing against the tunnel.
Anti-inflammatory medications are also possible options to help decrease any inflammation that could be contributing to symptoms. This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen, or steroid injections.
Another common therapy for carpal tunnel treatment is exercise to promote muscle strength and stretching. This helps to open the carpal tunnel.
Lastly, if all of these fail, surgery to cut the carpal tunnel open is a curative option.
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