What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?


What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common medical condition that affects the hand(s) or wrist(s). Increased pressure on the median nerve causes carpal tunnel syndrome. The median nerve originates from the brachial plexus in the upper arm, runs the length of the arm, passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, and ends in the hand. The carpal tunnel passage is a narrow canal/tube located in the wrist. The carpal tunnel canal holds the median nerve and tendons that connect the hand and forearm. The median nerve controls movement and sensation in the thumb and all the fingers except the pinky and half of the ring finger.

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the carpal tunnel is compressed or becomes too narrow, which creates pressure on the median nerve. The resulting inflammation can cause loss of sensation in the fingers and hand.

What are the symptoms?

Carpal tunnel symptoms often begin slowly and can occur at any age although it uncommon before the age of 20. Typically, the first symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are uncomfortable sensations in the thumb, index finger and middle finger. Other symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Numbness in the fingers or hands, sometimes up to the shoulder.
  • Pain, tingling, itching, and burning sensations in the hand, fingers or palm
  • Loss of sensation in the fingertips
  • Weakness in the hands, fingers and wrist
  • Difficulty performing tasks that involve the hand (holding small objects, grasping a steering wheel, holding a book, writing longhand, typing on a computer keyboard, etc.)
  • Difficulty performing delicate motions (buttoning a shirt, pulling a zipper, etc.)
  • Atrophy at the base of the thumb (severe cases)

Who is at risk?

Certain health conditions are linked to carpal tunnel syndrome. Specific tasks that involve repeated motions of the arm or wrist increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Several other factors also increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Females are three times more likely than males to develop carpal tunnel syndrome because the carpal tunnel canal is smaller in females versus males.
  • Pregnant women are at greater risk for carpal tunnel syndrome; however, symptoms typically clear within a few months after delivery.
  • Older individuals have an increased risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Individuals with amyloid deposits (abnormal proteins) have an increased risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Heredity plays a part in the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Some families are prone to have small carpal tunnel canals.
  • Certain medical conditions, such as obesity, hypothyroidism, trauma (such as wrist fracture or dislocation), diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, alcoholism, tumor, wrist or hand deformity, and hemodialysis, increase the likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Jobs or hobbies that require repetitive motion of the arm, hand or wrist (hammering, typing, cutting hair, etc.) increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
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