Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve gets compressed at the wrist. The median nerve runs from the forearm into the hand. If it gets squeezed, you will notice changes in your ability to feel and will suffer symptoms such as numbness and pins and needles in the hand. The pain may also radiate up your arm. Your hand will feel weak and may not be able to pick up small objects or do things that require precision. In a severe case, the person’s sensation is so affected that they cannot tell the difference between hot and cold. This is carpal tunnel syndrome.
What causes it?
The carpal tunnel is a passageway of ligaments and bones in the hand. If these ligaments become swollen for any reason, e.g. through injury, fluid retention or repetitive strain, then they can press on the median nerve and cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
How is it Diagnosed?
It is important to get a diagnosis and treatment promptly because if carpal tunnel syndrome is not treated, it can cause permanent damage to the median nerve.
Your doctor will examine your hand and tap on the nerve to see what reaction you have. If you experience pins and needles as a result, or have a painful shock-like reaction to the stimuli, then you have carpal tunnel syndrome. X-rays may also be ordered to rule out fracture of the hand or other injuries which can cause similar symptoms.
The level of damage to the median nerve can be measured with nerve conduction tests. Electrodes will be placed on your hand and wrist and small electric shocks given to you to see how fast the nerves respond. The slower they are, the more damage there is.
Ultrasound can also show damage to the nerve, you so may be offered one of these.
1. Anti-inflammatory medications such as asprin or ibuprofen to bring down the swelling that has compressed the median nerve
2. Oral or topical steroids
3. Diuretic pills – these decrease the amount of water in your body. Excess water can cause tissue swelling
4. If you have recovered from carpal tunnel syndrome, you may be offered physical therapy.