Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a hand and arm condition that causes numbness, tingling and other symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a pinched nerve in your wrist.

A number of factors can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, including the anatomy of your wrist, certain underlying health problems and possibly patterns of hand use.

Bound by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel protects a main nerve to your hand and the nine tendons that bend your fingers.

Compression of the nerve produces the numbness, tingling and, eventually, hand weakness that characterize carpal tunnel syndrome.

Fortunately, for most people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome, proper treatment usually can relieve the tingling and numbness and restore wrist and hand function.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

Carpal tunnel syndrome usually starts gradually with numbness or tingling in your thumb, index and middle fingers that comes and goes. This may be associated with discomfort in your wrist and hand. Common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:

  • Tingling or numbness. You may experience tingling and numbness in your fingers or hand, especially your thumb and index, middle or ring fingers, but not your little finger. This sensation often occurs while holding a steering wheel, phone or newspaper or, commonly, waking you from sleeping. The sensation may extend from your wrist up your arm.

    Many people "shake out" their hands to try to relieve their symptoms. As the disorder progresses, the numb feeling may become constant.

  • Weakness. You may experience weakness in your hand and a tendency to drop objects. This may be due to the numbness in your hand or weakness of the thumb's pinching muscles, which are controlled by the median nerve.

When to see a doctor

If you have persistent signs and symptoms suggestive of carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if they interfere with your normal activities and sleep patterns, see your doctor. If you leave the condition untreated, permanent nerve and muscle damage can occur.

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