Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes pain or weakness in the forearm and hand. It is caused by compression on a nerve in the wrist.
About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your carpal tunnel is a channel in the palm side of your wrist. The bones of your wrist are arranged in a semi-circle. A tough ligament, known as the transverse carpal ligament, forms a roof over these bones, creating a passageway known as your carpal tunnel. The tendons that you use to bend your fingers and wrist pass through your carpal tunnel. Your carpal tunnel also surrounds your median nerve, which is one of three nerves that connect your wrist to your hand. Your median nerve controls some of the muscles that move your thumb.
You can get carpal tunnel syndrome if there is too much pressure on your median nerve.
About three in 100 men and five in 100 women develop carpal tunnel syndrome at some point in their life.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your hand and fingers may:
- feel numb
You’re most likely to get these symptoms in your thumb, index and middle fingers and the side of your ring finger nearest your thumb. You may also get aching or pain in your forearm, shoulder and neck. Your symptoms may be mild or may last for only short periods of time.
Carpal tunnel syndrome tends to be worse at night or first thing in the morning. Your symptoms may get better after you have used your hand for a while, but may then come back later in the day.
If you have these symptoms, see our doctor for advice.
If your symptoms occur all of the time, your hand muscles can become weak. This may make it more difficult for you to grip objects or perform other manual tasks. If you have severe, long-lasting carpal tunnel syndrome, your thumb muscles may start to waste away or your median nerve may become permanently damaged. Occasionally, you may experience changes to the colour and feel of the skin of your hand.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Because there isn’t much room in your carpal tunnel, any swelling around it can press on your median nerve, causing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
You’re more likely to develop the condition if you’re overweight or have a job where you use your hands a lot. You may also get carpal tunnel syndrome if you:
- have a job that involves repeated forceful movements of your wrist, such as using a screwdriver
- have rheumatoid arthritis in your wrist joint
- are pregnant
- have thyroid problems
- have diabetes
- have cysts in your carpal tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome is more likely to affect women than men, and it tends to develop in people over 45.
One in four people who have carpal tunnel syndrome have a relative who also has the condition.
Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
We will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.
We may tap on your wrist and ask you to bend the palm of your hand to see if he or she can reproduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. If this happens, it’s likely that you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Treatment helps to relieve your symptoms by reducing the pressure on your median nerve and may stop your condition getting any worse.
Non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome
You may need cortisone injections into your carpal tunnel. Your symptoms should improve after that.
Wrist splints help to keep your wrist straight and reduce pressure on the compressed nerve.
Surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome
If your symptoms are severe, you may need to have a carpal tunnel release surgery. This operation involves a surgeon cutting your carpal ligament to make more space for the nerves and tendons in your carpal tunnel. It’s usually done as day-case surgery under a local anaesthetic.