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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain, tingling, and numbness in your hand and wrist from pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. Illnesses, pregnancy, and obesity can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

What Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Feel Like?

The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain felt in the fingers or, less commonly, in the palm. Symptoms most often occur in the parts of the hand supplied by the median nerve: the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. If your little finger is not affected, this may be a sign that the condition is carpal tunnel syndrome, because the little finger is usually controlled by a different nerve than the thumb and other fingers.

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often occur in both hands, but symptoms are usually worse in one hand than the other. You may first notice symptoms at night. People with carpal tunnel syndrome can usually fall asleep, but pain or numbness may wake them up.

Mild carpal tunnel symptoms primarily affect the hand and sometimes the forearm, but they can radiate up to the shoulder. Symptoms include:
  • Numbness or pain in the hand, forearm, or wrist that wakes you up at night.
  • Occasional tingling, numbness, or a "pins-and-needles" sensation similar to your hand "falling asleep."
  • Numbness or pain that gets worse while you are using your hand or wrist, especially when gripping an object with your hand and bending or flexing your wrist.
  • Occasional aching pain in your forearm between your elbow and wrist.
  • Stiffness in your fingers when you get up in the morning.

With moderate or severe carpal tunnel symptoms, you may have numbness or reduced strength and grip in your fingers, thumb, or hand. It may be difficult to:
  • Do simple hand movements, such as brushing your hair or holding a fork. You may even occasionally drop objects.
  • Pinch an object between your thumb and first finger due to a loss of pinch strength.
  • Use your thumb while doing simple tasks such as opening a jar or using a screwdriver. With long-lasting carpal tunnel syndrome, the thumb muscles can get smaller and weaker.

What’s the Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The goal of treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is to allow you to return to your normal function and activities and to:
  • Address other health conditions if they are making your symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome worse.
  • Reduce any inflammation of tissues in the wrist that puts pressure on the median nerve.
  • Determine the causes of your carpal tunnel symptoms. You can then identify whether there are activities for you to avoid or do differently and ways you can help prevent the condition.
  • Prevent nerve damage and loss of muscle strength in your fingers and hand.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is based on the seriousness of the condition, whether there is any nerve damage, and whether other treatment has helped previously. Treatment options include both surgical and nonsurgical options.
  • If treated early, carpal tunnel symptoms usually goes away with nonsurgical treatment.
  • If your symptoms are mild, with occasional tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain, 1 to 2 weeks of home treatment are likely to relieve your symptoms.
  • If home treatment does not help, or if your symptoms are more severe (including the loss of feeling in your fingers or hand, or the inability to perform simple hand movements such as holding objects or pinching), you may need to seek treatment advice from your doctor.

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