Carpal tunnel syndrome is an entrapment of the median nerve in the region of the wrist. Common symptoms are pain, altered sensation such as numbness and tingling, and weakness.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a small space in the wrist through which the median nerve and tendons run to reach the hand. The median nerve controls movement and feeling in your thumb and all fingers but the smallest. Anything that makes the carpal tunnel smaller, such as swelling, can lead to the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Common causes include diabetes, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, and pregnancy. It can also develop if you frequently make repetitive hand motions. Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common among women, older adults, those who smoke, and anyone who has sustained a hand injury.

What Are the Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

If you notice tingling, pain, and/or weakness in all your fingers except the pinky, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. These sensations can spread all the way to the elbow, may only occur or worsen at night, and can sometimes be relieved by shaking the hand. You may notice changes in grip or pinch strength or you may feel more clumsy when handling objects.

How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treated?

Doctors diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome with a physical exam, description of symptoms, and medical history. Other tests may be recommended, including nerve testing, blood tests, or imaging scans.

If carpal tunnel syndrome is suspected, home care often is the first line of defense. Treatments include activity modification, efforts to decrease inflammation such as ice pack application, and use of splints or athletic tape. Physical therapy may also include manual therapy, postural and ergonomic training and prescriptive exercise, such as stretching and treatments aimed at ensuring the median nerve is free of entrapment.

In severe cases, surgical treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome may be required.