What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
When numbing and tingling in your palm or fingers wakes you up at night, you may be one of the 4-10 million Americans suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome results when your median nerve — which runs from your spine, through your shoulder and elbow, down your forearm, through the wrist, and into your hand — gets pinched. This pinching occurs at the wrist’s carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway of bones, ligaments, and tendons at the base of your hand.
Multiple issues can cause an inflamed and pinched median nerve. Some of the most common causes include:
- Tendon swelling due to overuse
- Joint dislocation
- Bone fractures
- Fluid retention (often during pregnancy)
During pregnancy your body swells, causing nerves to compress. The problem is, nerves need space in order to perform their functions properly (aka, sense touch, temperature and pain). When your pregnant body is swollen, the nerve becomes pinched, causing those painful Carpal Tunnel symptoms, particularly overnight. That’s because people tend to sleep with their hands curled (just like our little ones!). When the wrists are flexed for a long period of time, it puts pressure on the nerve. Many women wake up feeling the need to “shake out” their hands to make the tingling go away.
Carpal tunnel syndrome manifests in various ways, the most common of which is pain in your hand and fingers (excluding your pinky finger and part of your ring finger).
The pain may radiate to your forearm and arm, you may experience tingling and numbness — especially at night — and you may feel as though your hand is asleep. Your grip may weaken, and you may drop things. Your hands can feel clumsy, and you can lose some of your fine motor skills.
Carpal tunnel syndrome most commonly affects people between the ages of 40 and 70, especially those who have a job that involves repetitive movement of the wrist. Professions that are at higher risk include assembly line work, construction, and desk jobs that involve a large volume of typing. Gender is a factor, women account for up to three-quarters of carpal tunnel diagnoses. Smokers may be at higher risk, as well as those who are pregnant, have diabetes or high body mass index.
After some initial questions about your medical history, Dr. Kalamaras will physically examine your hands, arms, neck, and shoulders in order to determine whether your wrist pain could be caused by arthritis or another condition. Hand pain at night as well as loss of feeling in one or more of the fingers can indicate carpal tunnel syndrome. Follow-up tests focus on determining whether the median nerve is properly conducting sensation. In some cases, Dr. Kalamaras may order an X-ray which may be necessary to fully rule out any other issues.
Early symptoms of carpal tunnel can be treated with nighttime splinting and/or cortisone injections. When the symptoms persist or are severe, a minor surgery involving a carpal tunnel release may be indicated.