While many have heard the term “carpal tunnel syndrome” and may have an idea of what it is, we are probably not aware that there is an actual carpal tunnel. Located on the palm side of the wrist, it is a narrow passageway consisting of ligaments and bones. There are tendons connected to the fingers and thumb, and a median nerve which manages movement and sensation in the hand’s first three fingers and the thumb.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of the median nerve getting squeezed or pinched at the wrist. This can happen if irritated tendons thicken or if there is swelling in the narrows of the tunnel. There are a combination of reasons for the condition, including repeated use of the wrist, trauma or injury to the wrist, excessive pituitary gland activity, stress and rheumatoid arthritis. Conditions include weakness, pain and numbness that can be in the hand or wrist. In some cases, pain will radiate up the arm.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is categorized as one of the entrapment neuropathies, medical conditions caused by direct pressure on a nerve. These are also known as trapped nerves. The condition can build gradually. There may be tingling, burning or itching numbness in the palm and fingers. Sufferers often awaken feeling the hand or wrist needs to be shaken out. There can be decreased grip strength and difficulty performing manual tasks. Some patients lose the facility to distinguish hot or cold by touch.
Carpal tunnel is common among people in assembly line work where there is repetitious hand and wrist movement. Individuals with metabolic disorders like diabetes are more likely to develop the condition. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical. Otherwise, one risks permanent damage to the median nerve.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, women are three times more likely to contract carpal tunnel syndrome. It has been theorized this is because the carpal tunnel itself can be smaller in women.
Clinicians can perform specific exams to test the pressure on the median nerve. Once diagnosed, treatment will begin under the doctor’s supervision. Drugs or braces may be administered. Strengthening and stretching exercises have been shown to abate symptoms. This may involve a physical or occupational therapist. Yoga has provided pain relief and improved grip strength. Professionals may also suggest a surgical procedure.