Are you noticing numbness, tingling or pain on your wrists, forearm and hand? You might be experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, a wrist condition caused by the compression of the median nerve in your wrist. This nerve is responsible for providing sensation to your thumb and first three fingers — when it becomes compressed, you may experience numbness, tingling or weakness in these areas. There are several causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, including repetitive motions (like typing), wrist injuries and arthritis.
Symptoms typically develop gradually and may worsen at night or with extended use of the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome is treated with splinting, steroid injections or surgery. Surgery is usually reserved for cases that do not respond to other treatment methods.
How Carpal Tunnel Feels Like
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the hand, becomes compressed. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist through which the median nerve and tendons pass. When the wrist is bent or extended, the carpal tunnel can become narrower, compressing the median nerve and causing symptoms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects people of all ages. However, it is more common in women than men and is more likely to occur in people with a family history of the condition. It is also more common in people with diabetes and thyroid problems.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness, tingling, pain and weakness in the hand and wrist. The symptoms typically develop gradually and may worsen at night or with extended use of the hand. They are often worse in the morning and may improve during the day as the hand is used.
If you think you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, see your doctor for an evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment of carpal tunnel can help prevent permanent damage to the median nerve.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Several wrist conditions can lead to carpal tunnel. The most common cause is wrist injury, which can damage the tendons and other tissues in the wrist, leading to inflammation and swelling. Other causes include repetitive motion (such as typing or using a mouse), arthritis and pregnancy.
Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome usually involves rest, splinting and physical therapy. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. The exam will include tests to check for sensation and muscle strength in your hand and wrist. They may also perform X-rays or other imaging studies to rule out other conditions that could cause your symptoms.
Carpal Tunnel Treatment
Carpal tunnel syndrome is treated with splinting, steroid injections or surgery:
- Splinting involves wearing a splint that immobilizes the wrist and hand to allow the median nerve to rest.
- Steroid injections are used to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms.
- Surgery is usually reserved for cases that do not respond to other treatment methods. It involves cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
If you have mild carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor may recommend wrist splints or braces to help relieve pressure on the median nerve. For more severe cases, they may recommend surgery to release the pressure on the nerve. Recovery from surgery takes several weeks, and you will likely need to wear a splint or brace during this time.
If you are considering surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, be sure to discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor. Surgery is generally safe, but there are potential complications, such as infection and nerve damage.
Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Here are some exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome that can help alleviate wrist pain and improve hand function:
- Sit with your forearm resting on a table and your wrist hanging off the edge.
- Use a light weight (i.e., 2-5 pounds) and slowly curl your wrist up, then back down.
- Repeat 10 times.
Reverse Wrist Curls
- The same position as above, but curl your wrist down and back up.
- Again, use a light weight and repeat 10 times.
- Extend your arm out in front of you with your palm up.
- Use your other hand to gently bend each finger back towards your palm, feeling a stretch in the tendons on the top of your hand.
- Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
- Place your palms together in front of you at chest level, keeping your fingers pointing towards the ceiling.
- Gently press your palms together, feeling a stretch in the wrist and forearm.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
Will Carpal Tunnel Go Away after Pregnancy?
If you are pregnant and feeling a tingling, numbness or weakness in your wrist, you may wonder if this is carpal tunnel syndrome and if it will go away after pregnancy.
A carpal tunnel occurs when the tissues around the wrist swell from fluid retention during pregnancy. The swelling puts pressure on the median nerve, which can cause pain, tingling and numbness in the wrist and hand.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in pregnant women because of the changes in hormone levels that occur during pregnancy, causing the tissues around the wrist to swell.
The good news is that carpal tunnel syndrome usually goes away after pregnancy. However, some women may need to wear a wrist splint or take medication to help relieve the symptoms.
If you are concerned about carpal tunnel syndrome, talk to your doctor. They can help you decide if you need to be seen by a specialist and what treatment options are best for you.
How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to take steps to prevent further damage to the median nerve. These steps include:
- Avoiding repetitive motions of the wrist;
- Taking breaks often if you must perform repetitive tasks;
- Keeping your wrist in a neutral position when typing or using a mouse;
- Exercising regularly to strengthen the muscles around the wrist;
- Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce pressure on the wrist.
A Parting Reminder
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a preventable condition. You only need to take breaks during extended periods of typing or other hand-intensive activities. However, you should also talk to your doctor if you experience any numbness, tingling or pain in your hands or wrists.