The median nerve runs from the forearm to a passage in the wrist (the carpal tunnel) and the hand. This nerve is what provides sensation to the palm side of the fingers and thumb, as well as motor function. When the median nerve experiences pressure or irritation, symptoms may appear. There is no single factor that causes carpal tunnel syndrome. A number of risk factors have been identified, including gender, arthritis, medications, obesity, repetitive workplace actions, and the anatomy of the wrist and hand.
In most cases, carpal tunnel symptoms progress gradually and can be experienced in one or both hands. Symptoms typically include tingling or numbness in the fingers and hand. This can become constant over time. Carpal tunnel can also lead to weakness in the hands and loss of grip.
Physicians will thoroughly examine your history of symptoms and will test the fingers for feeling and strength. X-rays may also be used to identify the possibility of arthritis or fractures. Electromyography, which measures small electrical discharges in muscles, can also be recommended to identify damage to muscles controlled by the median nerve.
It is important to start treating carpal tunnel syndrome as soon as symptoms appear. Resting the hand and avoiding activities that make the symptoms worse can be effective. Cold packs to reduce swelling, wrist splints, anti-inflammatory medications, and steroid injections can also help. Surgery may be recommended if symptoms are severe and other treatment options are not effective.