Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which there is pressure on the median nerve -- the nerve in the wrist that supplies feeling and movement to parts of the hand. It can lead to numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle damage in the hand and fingers.
Median nerve dysfunction; Median nerve entrapment
The median nerve provides feeling and movement to the "thumb side" of the hand (the palm, thumb, index finger, middle finger, and thumb side of the ring finger).
The area in your wrist where the nerve enters the hand is called the carpal tunnel. This tunnel is normally narrow, so any swelling can pinch the nerve and cause pain, numbness, tingling or weakness. This is called carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is common in people who perform repetitive motions of the hand and wrist. Typing on a computer keyboard is probably the most common cause of carpal tunnel. Other causes include:
The condition occurs most often in people 30 to 60 years old, and is more common in women than men.
A number of medical problems are associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, including:
During a physical examination, the health care provider may find:
Tests may include:
You may try wearing a splint at night for several weeks. If this does not help, you may need to try wearing the splint during the day. Avoid sleeping on your wrists. Hot and cold compresses may also be recommended.
There are many changes you can make in the workplace to reduce the stress on your wrist:
Medications used in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Corticosteroid injections, given into the carpal tunnel area, may relieve symptoms for a period of time.
Carpal tunnel release is a surgical procedure that cuts into the ligament that is pressing on the nerve. Surgery is successful most of the time, but it depends on how long the nerve compression has been occurring and its severity.
See also: Carpal tunnel release
Symptoms often improve with treatment, but more than 50% of cases eventually require surgery. Surgery is often successful, but full healing can take months.
If the condition is treated properly, there are usually no complications. If untreated, the nerve can be damaged, causing permanent weakness, numbness, and tingling.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Avoid or reduce the number of repetitive wrist movements whenever possible. Use tools and equipment that are properly designed to reduce the risk of wrist injury.
Ergonomic aids, such as split keyboards, keyboard trays, typing pads, and wrist braces, may be used to improve wrist posture during typing. Take frequent breaks when typing and always stop if there is tingling or pain.
Huisstede Bm, Hoogvliet P, Randsdorp MS, Glerum S, van Middlekoop M, Koes BW. Carpal tunnel syndrome. Part I: effectiveness of nonsurgical treatments--a systematic review. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2010;91:981-1004.
Huisstede BM, Randsdorp MS, Coert Jh, Glerum S, van Middlekoop M, Koes BW. Carpal tunnel syndrome. Part II: effectiveness of surgical treatments--a systematic review. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2010;91:1005-1024.
Keith MW. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons clinical practice guidelines on the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2009;91(10):2478-2479.
Keith MW. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2010;92(1):218-219.