Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway surrounded by bones and ligaments on the palm side of your hand. The median nerve runs through the carpal tunnel from your forearm to your hand. The median nerve provides sensation to the palm side of your thumb and fingers, except the little finger. It also generates the nerve signals required to move the muscles around the base of your thumb.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is pinched or compressed. It is a very common condition that affects over 3 million people each year in the U.S. alone.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
Essentially anything that causes the carpal tunnel to narrow and place pressure or irritation of the median nerve can trigger carpal tunnel syndrome. Some examples include injuries to the area, like a fractured wrist, or inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
There are many factors that are believed to increase the risk of irritation or damage to the median nerve, including:
- Anatomy – Some people are born with a naturally narrower carpal tunnels, which can make it easier for the median nerve to become pinched.
- Gender – Women are more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, likely because they have relatively smaller carpal tunnels.
- Other medical conditions – Nerve-damaging conditions like diabetes or inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of damage or compression of the median nerve.
- Obesity – Being obese has shown to increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome
- Changes in bodily fluid levels – Fluid retention can increase pressure inside the carpal tunnel, putting pressure on the median nerve. This commonly occurs during pregnancy and menopause.
What are symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Tingling or numbness in the hand or fingers (except the little finger)
- Weakness of the hand and reduced grip strength
Despite what many people think, pain is not usually a direct symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome. However, carpal tunnel syndrome is often triggered by other medical conditions that do cause pain, so many people often mistakenly associate them.
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