Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome can affect your ability to effectively use your hands and wrists. MaineHealth can help you learn how to treat the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

The median nerve follows the forearm to the base of the hand and passes through the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway formed by bones and ligaments in the wrist.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by the narrowing of the tissues in the carpal tunnel, which pinches and squeezes the median nerve.

In most cases, carpal tunnel syndrome gradually appears. Injuries do not necessarily cause carpal tunnel syndrome but can increase the risk of swelling.

Carpal tunnel syndrome risk factors                                                                         

Risk factors for developing carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Family history

  • Female gender

  • Increased body fluid or fluid retention

  • Improper position of hand and wrists

  • Inflammatory and nerve damaging health conditions

  • Pregnancy

  • Repeated hand use, such as typing

  • Small carpal tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes many sensations that can affect the whole arm. Pain often radiates from the base of the hand toward the shoulder. Other symptoms include:

  • Numbness, tingling, and shocks in the hand and fingers

  • Limited fine movements

  • Weak grip and occasional clumsiness

  • Tendency to drop things

Carpal tunnel syndrome should not interfere with your life. See your primary care provider if your symptoms persist and cause changes in your daily habits.

Screening and diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome

Your doctor will conduct a physical exam to test the median nerve. X-rays and other imaging tests let your doctor view any narrowing of the wrists.

Other tests can determine how the nerve and muscles are working in the hands, wrists and forearm.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause permanent nerve and muscle damage if untreated.

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome

There are many options for treating carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Activity and habit changes

  • Braces and splints

  • Exercises and stretching

  • Occupational therapy

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Steroids

  • Surgery

Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Speak with your doctor to find out which treatment option is right for you.