| Risk Factors
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve disorder of the hand. It is caused by compression of the median nerve. The median nerve gets squeezed inside a narrow passage in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. This nerve provides feeling to the thumb, index and middle fingers, and half the ring finger.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
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Carpal tunnel syndrome is created by pressure on the median nerve. This pressure is caused by the carpal tunnel becoming narrower. The narrowing can be caused by many factors, including:
- Swelling of tissue in the carpal tunnel due to injury or fluid changes in your body
- Hereditary narrow carpal tunnel
- Tumors (rare)
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
Carpal tunnel syndrome causes symptoms in one or both hands or wrists.
Symptoms may include:
- Tingling, burning, or numbness, especially in your thumb and index or middle fingers
Pain or numbness that worsens with:
- Wrist, hand, or finger movement
- Sleep (symptoms may wake you)
Hand stiffness or cramping that gets better after:
- Shaking your hand
- Waking up in the morning
Weakness or clumsiness of your hand:
- Loss of grip strength
- Difficulty making a fist
- Frequently dropping things
- Pain that moves up your arm
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam of your arms, wrists, and hands will be done. The exam will include tests of strength, sensation, and signs of nerve irritation or damage.
Other tests may include:
- Electrodiagnostic exam
—Measures and records the speed of electrical conduction in your median nerve (to see if the nerve impulse in the hand is delayed)
- MRI scan
—A test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside your body, in this case the neck (cervical spine)
—A test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside your body, especially bones
- Ultrasound—A test that uses sound waves to measure the width of your median nerve (may be used as a screening test or to guide injections)
It is important to correct whatever is causing the carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes making simple changes in your workplace or home may help relieve symptoms.
Treatment may also include:
- Rest your wrist by keeping it straight and decreasing activities that worsen pain.
- Gently apply ice packs to the area.
- Elevate the hand above your heart to reduce swelling.
- Do exercises as directed by your healthcare provider.
A splint will prevent extreme movements of the wrist. It is most effective when worn at night. It can help you avoid waking up with symptoms.
Pain relievers, for example,
- Injection of cortisone into the carpal tunnel
Surgery may be needed if symptoms are severe, or continue after you try other treatments. The most common procedure is the
carpal tunnel release.
If you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, follow your doctor's
You may reduce your chances of getting carpal tunnel syndrome by taking these steps:
- Minimize repetitive hand movements when possible.
- Alternate between activities or tasks to reduce the strain on your body.
- When using your wrists, keep them straight. Let your arms and shoulders share the stress.
- Use your whole hand or both hands to pick up an item.
- Avoid holding an object the same way for a long time.
If you work in an office, adjust your desk, chair, and keyboard so you are in the best possible position:
- Back straight
- Feet flat on the floor or resting on a footrest
- Knees level with or slightly lower than your hips
- Shoulders in a neutral position, not forward or back
- Elbows bent at a 90-degree angle
- Forearms parallel to the floor and wrists straight
Take breaks at least every hour to:
- Rest or shake your hands
- Massage your palms and backs of your hands
such as walking or swimming.
Cut down on
smoking. These activities may reduce blood flow to your hands.
Carpal tunnel syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://dynamed.ebscohost.com/. Updated October 8, 2012. Accessed October 23 ,2012.
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Last reviewed September 2013 by Teresa Briedwell, DPT, OCS
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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