What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a condition that results in numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the hands and wrist, due to excessive pressure on the median nerve that runs through the forearm and carpal tunnel to the hand.
The median nerve is one of the main nerves in the hand and it gives feeling in the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring fingers. The exact cause of carpal tunnel syndrome can vary but it usually begins with inflammation of structures in or around the carpal tunnel, such as the tendons. When these structures or tissue become inflamed, they swell, which compresses the median nerve. Causes include:
- Repetitive motion - repetitive motion can aggravate the wrist tendons, cause swelling and exert pressure on the nerve
- Genetics - the carpal tunnel is narrower in some people
- Pregnancy - hormonal changes or fluid retention can cause swelling in the carpal tunnel
- Lifestyle factors - including obesity and smoking
What are the symptoms?
The condition starts gradually, and its symptoms usually include frequent burning, tingling, itchiness or numbness in the palm and fingers, typically the thumb, index and middle fingers. Patients may experience pain and burning that goes up the arm. The affected wrist may hurt at night and interfere with sleep, and the muscles of the hand may feel weak and wasted.
As symptoms worsen, the patient may experience tingling sensations during the day and a reduction in grip strength that makes it tough to form a fist or grasp small objects.
Timely diagnosis and treatment are critical to avoid permanent damage.
How is it treated?
Applying an ice pack can help. Take frequent breaks and ensure correct posture when working. Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce pain and swelling. You may be advised to wear a splint at night and as needed during the day. Surgery may be advised by your medical practitioner if there is moderate to severe compression on the median nerve.
Always consult your doctor if you suspect that you have CTS.