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Tingling and numbness in your hand. Pain that shoots from your wrist up your arm. If you suffer from those symptoms, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome — a condition that affects up to 10 percent of the population.
Basically, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a nerve at the wrist (called the median nerve) becomes pinched. A space in the wrist (the carpal tunnel) contains the median nerve and nine tendons that run from the forearm to the hand.
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you may believe it was caused by the repeated use of a computer keyboard and mouse. However the cause is frequently unknown and may include a wrist injury, arthritis, repeated use of vibrating hand tools, fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause, heredity, diabetes or a thyroid imbalance. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs more frequently in women than men.
Usually, symptoms begin gradually but tend to increase over time. At first, you may feel them at night. Then they may begin occurring during the day as well. Symptoms frequently include pain, numbness or tingling, with the numbness and tingling most often in the thumb side of the hand. Some people have trouble making a pinching motion as well as delicate movements like buttoning buttons. In severe cases, the palm may waste and shrink.
To find out if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you and conduct an examination to look for signs of tingling, numbness or weakness. Your doctor also may order X-rays to look for causes of your discomfort such as arthritis, a broken bone or order electrical testing of the nerve function.
If it’s caught early, carpal tunnel syndrome usually can be treated without surgery. Non-surgical treatments may include wearing a wrist splint at night, taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, changing hand use patterns, or receiving a steroid injection to reduce swelling around the median nerve.
Depending upon the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery if your symptoms don’t improve with non-surgical treatments. The goal of the surgery is to create more room for the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the top of the carpal tunnel. The surgery, which is usually performed on an outpatient basis, involves an incision or cut in the wrist. After surgery, recovery is slow and may take up to two months. In severe cases, symptoms may not go away entirely. For more information on carpal tunnel syndrome including drawings of the hand and the carpal tunnel, visit the Web site of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand at www.assh.org.