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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Tingling, Numbness and Pain

Tingling and numbness in your hand. Pain that shoots from your wrist up your arm. Weakness and/or clumsiness in the hand. If you suffer from those symptoms, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome -- a condition that gets worse over time for most people who have it.

How Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Happens

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a nerve at the wrist (called the median nerve) becomes pinched. A space in the wrist (the carpal tunnel) contains the median nerve and nine tendons that run from the forearm to the hand.

If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you may believe it was caused by the repeated use of a computer keyboard and mouse. However the cause is frequently unknown and may be a combination of factors, including:

  • Wrist injury
  • Arthritis
  • Repeated use of vibrating hand tools
  • Fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause (creates swelling and pressure on the nerve)
  • Heredity (i.e., amount of space for the nerve)
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid imbalance

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs more frequently in women than men. Usually, symptoms begin gradually but tend to increase. At first, you may feel them at night. Then they may begin occurring during the day as well. Symptoms frequently include pain, numbness or tingling, with the numbness and tingling most often in the thumb side of the hand. Some people have trouble making a pinching motion as well as delicate movements like buttoning buttons. In severe cases, the muscles may shrink.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

To find out if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you and will conduct an examination to look for signs of tingling, numbness or weakness. Your doctor also may order X-rays to look for causes of your discomfort such as arthritis or a broken bone or order electrical testing of the nerve function.

If it’s caught early, carpal tunnel syndrome usually can be treated without surgery. Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • Wearing a wrist splint at night to keep your wrist in a neutral position that reduces pressure on the nerve
  • Taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to relieve pain and inflammation
  • Changing hand use patterns to slow or stop progression due to repetitive movements
  • Receiving a steroid injection to reduce swelling around the median nerve
Depending upon the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery if you don’t improve. The goal of the surgery is to create more room for the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the top of the carpal tunnel. The surgery, which is usually performed on an outpatient basis, involves an incision or cut in the wrist. After surgery, recovery is slow and may take up to two months. In severe cases, symptoms may not go away entirely. 

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