While women are more likely to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, it affects 3-6% of all adults. When left untreated, it can impair hand strength and limit overall hand and wrist function, which is why our team encourages an exam at the onset of wrist pain.
The median nerve travels down your arm and into your hand through a narrow space called the carpal tunnel. Wrist injuries or inflammation of the surrounding tendons can compress the nerve, resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome.
People born with smaller-than-average wrists are at an increased risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, though most cases are caused by repetitive use and wrist flexion. Overuse of tendons and wrist injuries can lead to inflammation that pinches the median nerve.
Health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and thyroid disorders increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. The hormonal shifts associated with pregnancy and menopause can also influence your chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops gradually and worsens over time if left untreated. Common symptoms include:
As hand weakness progresses, many patients who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome notice an increase in dropping things. They also report feeling as though their fingers are swollen when they are not as well as radiating sensations from the wrist down through their fingers.
While pain management is important while treating carpal tunnel syndrome, the primary objective is to prevent permanent damage to the median nerve. A malfunctioning nerve can lead to muscle deterioration in the hand.
Early stage carpal tunnel syndrome responds well to:
Some advanced cases require surgical intervention to alleviate pressure along the median nerve.
Carpal tunnel syndrome varies in severity, and the decision for surgery depends on several factors. Surgery is typically considered when symptoms are severe and persistently disrupt daily activities. When non-surgical treatments like wrist splints, lifestyle changes, and medications have not provided adequate relief, if there is significant weakness or muscle atrophy in the hands, or if nerve conduction studies show substantial median nerve damage, your doctor may recommend a carpal tunnel release. It’s crucial to have a detailed discussion with a healthcare professional who can evaluate your specific situation and decide if surgery is the most appropriate course of action.
While a definitive diagnosis should be made by a healthcare professional, there are simple tests you can do at home to assess the likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome. Tinel’s test involves gently tapping over your median nerve at the wrist and observing if this causes tingling in the fingers, which may suggest CTS. Phalen’s maneuver requires pressing the backs of your hands together with the wrists bent and your fingers pointing down for about a minute. If you experience numbness or tingling in the fingers during this test, it could indicate CTS. However, these tests are not definitive, and consulting a medical professional for a comprehensive evaluation is important if you suspect you have CTS.
It is actually possible to take measures to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. This involves implementing strategies to minimize stress on your wrists and hands. Regular breaks from repetitive hand motions, maintaining a neutral wrist position, using ergonomic tools and keyboards, performing wrist and hand exercises to strengthen the area, and being mindful of your posture (as poor posture can contribute to wrist problems) are effective measures. Additionally, wearing a wrist splint at night can be beneficial if you’re experiencing early symptoms. Implementing these practices in your daily routine can significantly reduce the risk of developing CTS.
It’s not uncommon for Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms to seem more intense at night. This exacerbation of symptoms can be caused by numerous reasons. First, when we sleep, we often unconsciously bend our wrists, which can compress the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. The fluid distribution in the body also changes when lying down, potentially increasing pressure within the carpal tunnel. Reduced movement during sleep also means less blood flow to the wrists, which can make numbness and tingling worse. Elevating your hands and wearing a wrist splint at night can help alleviate some of these symptoms so you can get a better night’s rest.
If you suspect you have carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to consult the right healthcare professional. Typically, you would start with your primary care physician, who can perform initial assessments. They might then refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist, orthopedic surgeon, or a hand specialist, for further evaluation and treatment. These specialists can offer more detailed testing, such as nerve conduction studies, and provide specific treatment options, including surgery if necessary.
Distinguishing between carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis can be challenging, as they can have similar symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome typically causes numbness, tingling, and pain in the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Arthritis tends to cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness and can affect multiple joints, potentially extending outside the wrist area. Carpal tunnel syndrome often worsens at night and may cause a sensation of ‘pins and needles’ or weakness in the hand. Arthritis pain can also worsen at night; however, it is also often associated with increased joint stiffness in the morning or following periods of inactivity. To accurately identify whether it’s CTS or arthritis, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional who can perform appropriate tests and provide a definitive diagnosis.
The progression and resolution of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the condition. In some cases, especially when identified early and with mild symptoms, CTS can improve over time with non-surgical treatments such as wrist splinting, lifestyle modifications, and exercises. However, in more severe cases, especially those involving nerve damage, CTS may not go away on its own and could require more intensive treatment, like surgery. It’s also important to address any underlying conditions or repetitive strain activities that may be contributing to the syndrome. Regular follow-up with a healthcare professional is crucial for monitoring the condition and adjusting treatment as needed.
Carpal tunnel gloves are designed to provide support and alleviate symptoms associated with CTS. These gloves typically have a snug fit and may offer compression to help reduce swelling and improve blood circulation in the hands. Some are designed to keep the wrist in a neutral, slightly extended position to relieve pressure on the median nerve. This can help minimize symptoms like numbness, tingling, and pain, especially during activities that might aggravate CTS. However, it’s important to note that while these gloves can provide symptom relief, they are usually most effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, which may include exercises, lifestyle changes, and medical interventions as advised by a healthcare professional.