Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Symptoms & Causes

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where the median nerve, which runs the length of the arm and through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, becomes compressed.

The median nerve controls movement and feeling in all the fingers except the little finger. When it gets compressed, it can lead to discomfort or pain, which worsens if left untreated.

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Tingling or numbness in your hand or fingers. Most of the time, this can can affect any of the fingers except your little finger. Shaking your hand or wrist may relieve the tingling or numbness but it may recur and become more frequent and severe over time.
  • Tingling, numbness that travels up the arm. This is more likely to occur when you are using your hand to grip something such as a steering wheel or telephone. In some cases, it may be severe enough to wake you from sleep.
  • Weakness or lack of sensation in your hand. Weakness or numbness may lead to difficulty holding or grasping things, or you may find yourself dropping things as these muscles are also controlled by the median nerve.
  • Pain or muscle cramps in your hand. This becomes more common in severe or advanced carpal tunnel syndrome.

What are the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by:

  • A previous wrist fracture, resulting in narrowing of the carpal tunnel.
  • Fluid retention, which can cause swelling of tissues and therefore increased pressure in the carpal tunnel.
  • Inflammatory (swelling) conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause the lining of joints and tendons in the carpal tunnel to swell.

What are the risk factors of carpal tunnel syndrome?

There is no clear cause for carpal tunnel syndrome. However, there are some risk factors that may increase the likelihood of you getting it:

  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Medical conditions. Diabetes mellitus (Type 2 diabetes), hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout, are linked to a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Age. This can lead to changes in the soft tissue or bony structures of your wrist, which can contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men.
  • Activities that require prolonged or repetitive flexing of the wrist. This includes typing, which may contribute to pressure on the median nerve. This is often the most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Complications that may arise from carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Reduced strength and coordination. You may find it increasingly difficult to manage tasks such as fastening buttons or picking up small items as the hand muscles shrink.
  • Increased pain and cramping. As the pressure increases on the median nerve, symptoms such as pain and muscle cramps may worsen.
  • Reduced feeling. Compression of the median nerve leads to slower nerve muscles, resulting in reduced feeling or sensation in your fingers.
This page has been reviewed by our medical content reviewers.

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