In your forearm, eight bones form a U-shaped channel that houses many tendons as well as your median nerve. The carpal tunnel is the name for this passageway. Your median nerve is responsible for your feeling and your sensation on the palm side of your first 3 ½ fingers.
Compression or irritation of this nerve as it travels through the carpal tunnel is responsible for the creation of a condition known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). CTS is currently the most common nerve entrapment, affecting 3-5% of the general population. Females are affected roughly two or three times more often than males. Carpal tunnel syndrome most often is found in adults age 45-60.
Long periods of wrist flexion and/or repetitive wrist movements, such as supermarket scanning, keyboard use, carpentry, or assembly line work, may trigger CTS. Exposure to vibration or cold is also known to aggravate the condition or worsen it.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is more common in your dominant hand but can also frequently affect both hands. Some risk factors for developing CTS include diabetes, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, alcoholism, kidney disease and being short or overweight. Fluid retention during pregnancy is also a common cause of carpal tunnel symptoms.
Numbness, tingling, or pain on the palm side of your thumb, index, middle finger, and half of your ring finger are all symptoms of CTS. The pain and discomfort you're experiencing will also spread to your elbow. The symptoms you experience usually start as nighttime discomfort or waking up with numb hands but can rapidly progress to a constant annoyance.
Your symptoms are likely aggravated by gripping activities such as holding a book while reading, driving or painting. Early on, your symptoms may be reduced by simply "shaking your hands out". You may sometimes feel as though your hands are tight or swollen. In more severe cases, hand weakness can form.
Compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel is often followed by compression in another or third location. This is referred to as "double crush syndrome" by researchers. Common "double crush" partners for CTS also involve the spine or muscles in and around your neck, shoulder and forearm.
To help resolve your condition, you should do your best to avoid activities that involve repetitive wrist flexion, i.e. pushups. Grasping the handlebars on your bicycle will likely increase irritation of your condition. Our office may prescribe a special splint that keeps your wrist in a neutral or slightly extended position that will help with your nighttime symptoms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can result in permanent nerve damage to your forearm if left untreated. The American Academy of Neurology recommends conservative treatment, like the type provided in our office, before going down the surgical route.