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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome


What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a localized compression of a median nerve at the level of the wrist.

At the base of the hand is a narrow place between bones and ligaments where the median nerve and muscle tendons are found. This area is called the carpal tunnel. When the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes squeezed or inflamed at the wrist, the result may be numbness, pain and weakness in the hand and wrist.

Symptoms of CTS may increase gradually. Signs of CTS usually are first noticed at night. Common symptoms include burning, tingling or numbness in the palm of the hand and along the fingers, especially the thumb, index and middle finger. These feelings may intensify to the point where it becomes difficult to hold small objects or to make a fist. Furthermore, symptoms can extend up along the arm. The pain associated with this condition can range from mild-to-severe.

CTS is typically the result of increased pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself. This pressure may be a result of trauma or injury to the wrist, arthritis, diabetes or thyroid disease. CTS usually occurs in adults between 40 and 60 years of age, and is more common in women than men. In women, CTS may be caused by fluid retention due to pregnancy or menopause. Sometimes the exact cause of CTS cannot be identified.

CTS sometimes may be caused by work-related, repetitive activities that involve forceful or awkward movements of the wrist or fingers. However, it is not clear if significant computer use can increase the risk of developing CTS.

If identified and treated as early as possible—with underlying causes such as diabetes or arthritis treated first—most people with CTS can relieve the pain and numbness and restore normal use of their wrists and hands.

Symptoms & Signs

(Not all carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms and signs may be present.)

In hand and fingers:

  • Numbness
  • Loss of movement
  • Feeling that fingers are swollen
  • Prickling
  • Mild-to-severe pain (may experience pain at night)
  • Decreased sensation
  • Decreased strength

Other symptoms may include:

  • Tendency to drop things
  • Difficulty manipulating small objects

Evaluation & Tests

(Not all evaluation and tests may be necessary.)

Treatment & Therapy

(Not all treatments and therapies may be indicated.)

Treatment focuses on identifying and removing or correcting the underlying cause of the nerve dysfunction.

Treatment options include:

  • Vocational or occupational counseling
  • Wrist splint
  • Physical therapy to improve strength in the hand
  • Over-the-counter pain medications (For severe pain, take over-the-counter pain medications and/or prescription drugs used for peripheral neuropathy, on a regular basis—rather than waiting until nighttime when symptoms can become more severe.)
  • Alternative therapies like yoga
  • Carpal tunnel release surgery
  • Take safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation

A Story of Hope:
Joe and Dana Bacon

Joe and Dana Bacon’s story is a story of hope. They personify all that is good in this world: love, strength, determination. They make you BELIEVE anything is possible. 

The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy spoke to Joe and Dana about their life, their inspirations, Dana’s battle with and acceptance of small fiber neuropathy, and Joe’s upcoming Race for a Cure at the Baltimore Marathon.