Carpal Tunnel Symptoms

Carpal Tunnel Symptoms to Be Aware Of


Are you experiencing carpal tunnel symptoms? Carpal tunnel syndrome is a hand condition caused by compression of the median nerve. That is the primary nerve of the wrist, which runs from the forearm to the palm of the hand. This common condition affects an estimated three to five percent of adults. Frequent texting, typing, and other repetitive hand and wrist motions put undue stress on this major nerve that impacts strength and function in this part of the body.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is likely to become progressively worse over time and may severely limit one’s ability to use their hands to do simple tasks. That is why it is important to know the signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and seek prompt treatment. Physical therapy and other noninvasive treatments may reduce symptoms and enable patients to continue with their daily activities.

What Is the Carpal Tunnel?

The carpal tunnel is a small tube located at the base of the hand by the wrist. This tube is bordered on three sides by small carpal bones, and on the wrist side by a band of connective tissue called the transverse carpal ligament.

The carpal tunnel houses the median nerve and the tendons that bend the thumb and fingers. The median nerve provides sensation and motor functions to the thumb and three middle fingers.

Swelling of these tendons and other forms of irritation can cause the carpal tunnel to narrow, which in turn puts pressure on the median nerve. Compression of the median nerve is the source of carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.

Common Carpal Tunnel Symptoms

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome typically come on gradually and without any significant injury. Nighttime symptoms are common, especially for those who sleep with their wrists bent.

The earliest signs of carpal tunnel syndrome often include:

  • Pain in the thumb and 1st two fingers
  • Tingling the in thumb and 1st two fingers
  • Numbness in the hand and wrist, often at night

As the condition progresses, the person may experience:

  • Reduced sensation in the fingertips
  • Tingling in the thumb and fingers
  • Pain and/or burning primarily in the thumb and/or 1st two fingers
  • Pain that travels up the forearm to the shoulder
  • Difficulty using the hand for some tasks like holding an object or typing on a keyboard

If carpal tunnel syndrome progresses without intervention, symptoms may become more frequent and intense, including:

  • Weakness throughout the hand
  • Difficulty performing fine tasks, like slicing an apple or buttoning a shirt
  • Dropping objects due to weakness or reduced awareness of where the hand is in space (proprioception)

Carpal tunnel syndrome is just one possible cause of hand and/wrist pain If you have hand pain, stiffness, or mobility issues, schedule an exam with your health care provider and a physical therapy screening to assess the cause and treat your condition.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

It is a common misconception that carpal tunnel syndrome only affects office workers who spend their day typing on a keyboard. Anyone who performs activities and tasks that involve repeated hand use are more likely to experience carpal tunnel compression.

Construction workers who use high-force, vibrating equipment like jackhammers are one example. Carpal tunnel syndrome is also common among cosmetologists who continually bend their wrist to cut, blow-dry, and style hair and athletes who hold equipment in their hands: tennis players, golfers, and body builders.

Some medical conditions are linked with increase rates of carpal tunnel symptoms:

  • Pregnancy
  • Older age
  • Hand/wrist injuries or irregularities
  • Arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
  • Diabetes and other chronic conditions that affect nerves

How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?

If you have unusual numbness, tingling, or pain in the hand and wrist, what is the next step? First, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and have a physical exam.

There are simple in-office tests they can use to determine if the median nerve is affected and if tingling and numbness are related to carpal tunnel syndrome. They may also order X-rays and nerve conduction studies to further assess nerve function and identify/rule out disease or injury.

Nonsurgical Treatments for Relief From Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Conservative, nonsurgical treatments are initially recommended after a carpal tunnel diagnosis. These include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen for short-term pain relief
  • Bracing or splinting keeps the wrist in a neutral position to ease nerve compression
  • Steroid injections to reduce swelling that compresses the median nerve
  • Physical therapy gliding exercises, hand and wrist stretches, and other treatments help reduce pain, numbness, and tingling
  • Modifications like raising or lowering one’s chair or changing hand position to ease pressure on the median nerve

Is Surgery Necessary for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Surgery may be necessary when carpal tunnel syndrome does not respond to nonsurgical treatments or if symptoms become more intense. During this procedure, the ligament that covers the carpal tunnel at the base of the palm is cut (or released) to widen the tunnel. That eases pressure on the nerves and tendons within.

A carpal tunnel release is typically an outpatient procedure. Once the patient is cleared for activity, they can resume approved tasks gradually. Post-surgical physical therapy is often prescribed to improve strength and function in the wrist, hand, and fingers after carpal tunnel release.

Physical therapists also work with patients to prevent carpal tunnel symptoms and avoid postsurgical recurrence through education on how to create an ideal workspace and maintain healthy hand and wrist position during daily activities. Find a physical therapy clinic near you.

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