What is Carpal tunnel syndrome?

A form of arthritis that typically causes pain, weakness and tingling in your thumbs and fingers is referred to as Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

  • CTS is more often seen in women than men.
  • In the UK, 3% of men and 5% of women may experience CTS is their lifetime.
  • Although Carpal Tunnel Syndrome becomes more common as you get older, it can affect people of any age

The Carpal tunnel serves as a passageway in the hand. Carried within it are the median nerve (extends from the elbow, forearm and wrist to the hand), tendons and bones of the carpal.

Women are more susceptible to Carpal tunnel syndrome, however it impacts people regardless of sex and age, affecting one or both hands.

What causes Carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve (at the point of entry into the wrist) is placed under tension or pressure (clasped) by irritated and swollen tendons. The numbness and pain felt in the middle fingers are as a result of the pressure the median nerve is subjected to.

The causes of carpal tunnel syndrome in some individuals remain unknown. Although, it has been noted that injury or fractures sustained during activities that involve constant movement of the wrist or finger like typing, sewing or construction work may result in the syndrome.

Individuals with the following conditions are susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Overweight.
  • Use contraceptive pills.
  • Suffer from an underactive thyroid gland.
  • Pregnant.
  • Diabetic.
  • Suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

What are the symptoms of Carpal tunnel syndrome?

A burning sensation in the hand, numbness,  or tingling (also referred to as pins and needle)s are early symptoms that indicate the onset of the syndrome. During the night the symptoms worsen and can even deprive the sufferer of sleep. As time goes by the symptoms become more noticeable by day and the pain may extend to other areas of the body such as the arm, elbow or shoulder. If not treated, the affected hand weakens. The muscles of the thumb, index and middle fingers are mostly impacted, once this occurs the victim finds it difficult to hold and pick up objects.

How is Carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosed?

After looking at the pattern of symptoms and your medical history, carpal tunnel syndrome can be diagnosis by your doctor. A unique electrical test referred to as nerve conduction study may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. Nerve conduction study involves the passage of small electrical charges into the median nerve which is directly above the wrist. When tension or pressure is placed on the nerve then the rate at which electrical impulse is transmitted declines.

Carrying out a blood test or an x-ray may also happen in an attempt to get rid of other forms of arthritis.

How is Carpal tunnel syndrome treated?

The severity of your symptoms will determine what kind of treatment you receive.Painkillers will be enough for mild symptoms, but your physician still needs to place you under observation to ensure the symptoms do not get worse.

If the cause of the syndrome is your job or hobby,it is often a good idea to take breaks on the job and try to devise other means of performing such activities.

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms such as pain and inflammation can be reduced by the use of prescription drugs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (N.S.A.I.D.s) are majorly effective. It is a wise choice to wear a splint until you recover so as to prevent movement and avoid putting the nerve under pressure. The splint should also be worn to bed.

Sometimes sufferers may need surgery when the CTS does not respond to treatment. The process involves opening up the carpal tunnel and cutting the ligament just below the wrist, this helps alleviate the pressure on the nerve. The patient is discharged the same day, but it is advised that you rest the wrist for a week.

Further Information

You can learn more about Carpal tunnel syndrome by going to the Arthritis Research UK website. This resource offers some excellent advice and information on this disease. is another excellent source of information. Maintained by a doctor with a longstanding research interest in CTS, this website also offers a handy, self-diagnosis questionnaire.

Photo Credit: handarmdoc Flickr CC