What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition resulting from one of the main nerves of the arm (the median nerve) being compressed at the wrist.
The nerve runs on the 'palm side' of the wrist, together with many other tendons and nerves. These all run within a very snug tunnel, the Carpal Tunnel, which works very well in normal circumstances. If any swelling occurs, though, then pressure builds up in the tunnel, squeezing on the nerve.
What are the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The most common complaints are of numbness and tingling in the hand, usually of the thumb, index and middle fingers. The symptoms are often worse when using the hand, such as carrying shopping bags or holding tools. A classic complaint is of waking up at night with pins and needles in the hand, shaking the hand to relieve the symptoms.
The fine muscles of the thumb can also be weakened in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, leading to occasional complaints of weakness or clumsiness in the affected hand.
What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
There are a number of possible causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, including:
- Pregnancy - probably due to fluid retention causing swelling around the nerve
- Thyroid disorders - underactive thyroid can also lead to swelling
- Trauma - previous wrist sprains or breaks can lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Rheumatoid Arthritis - changes at the wrist joint can cause Carpal Tunnel problems
- Referred symptoms - squeezing of the nerve in the elbow or neck can give symptoms felt in the hand
Often, though, no cause can be pin-pointed and the condition is termed 'idiopathic' (of unknown cause)
Are there any tests for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
There are a number of clinical tests that the surgeon may perform in the clinic which, with the symptoms you have, may be all the surgeon needs to come to a diagnosis. If there are any concerns that there may be a treatable cause such as thyroid disease, then blood tests may be required.
If any doubt exists of the diagnosis, then a nerve conduction or EMG (electromyograph) study can be performed. These tests use very small electric currents to test the nerve along its course - the electricity is not conducted well if the nerve is compressed, confirming the diagnosis.
How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome treated?
There are a number of ways that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be treated. These include splints, steroids or surgery. To learn more about this, please read our Carpal Tunnel Surgery page.
Read an account of a patient's Real Experience of Carpal Tunnel Surgery
Any procedure involving skin incision can also result in unfavourable scarring, wound infection, or bleeding. This list of risks is not exhaustive, and you should discuss possible complications with your specialist. Whilst these risks will seem very worrysome, and indeed can be serious, it should also be borne in mind that many people have no postoperative problems whatsoever.
The information provided is as a guide only and you should discuss matters fully with your specialist before deciding if this is the right procedure for you. Please also read our disclaimer