Carpal tunnel, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome, happens when the nerve running from your forearm to your hand is squeezed or pressed. The common condition may cause numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in the hand, fingers, and wrist.
Carpal tunnel presents itself in different ways, from numbness and tingling in your hands to occasional shooting pain from your palm to your shoulder. Because many people sleep with their wrists flexed, tingling and numbness may be especially pronounced in the morning. Gradually, you may experience other symptoms, such as burning, itching, and numbness, throughout the day. As strength in your wrist decreases, you may find it challenging to grasp small objects or create a fist.
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually derives from combined factors that narrow the available space for the affected nerve, putting undue pressure on it. These may include injury or trauma to your wrist that triggers swelling, an overactive pituitary gland, an underactive thyroid gland, or rheumatoid arthritis. Other causes include mechanical problems with the joint in your wrist from repetitive movements, the formation of a cyst or tumor in the canal or fluid retention associated with pregnancy or menopause.
Most anyone can develop carpal tunnel but your risks are higher if you have a disorder that affects the nerves, such as diabetes. It’s more common in adults and women are about 3 times more likely to get it than men.
Your doctor can diagnose carpal tunnel through a physical exam and discussion of your symptoms and lifestyle habits that may contribute to the condition. Electrodiagnostic testing can help confirm the diagnosis and the severity of any nerve damage by measuring the electrical activity of your muscles and nerves.
Treatment of carpal tunnel begins conservatively, with nonsurgical treatments such as splinting at night, using over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, physical therapy, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture. Avoiding daytime activities that may trigger symptoms, taking frequent breaks to rest your wrists, and taking vitamin B6 and folic acid supplements may also help. When these methods aren’t fully effective, your doctor may recommend surgery, which involves severing a ligament around your wrist to minimize pressure on the affected nerve.
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