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Carpal Tunnel FAQ
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder that causes pain, numbness and weakness in the wrist.
Eight bones, known as carpal bones, make up the wrist. The irregular shape of these bones allows the wrist to move and rotate. Together, these bones form a “C” shaped ring that is covered by a ligament to form a tunnel. This tunnel houses the median nerve and nine tendons.
The median nerve controls sensations on the palm side of the thumb and first three fingers. This nerve also provides impulses to the small muscles that, along with the nine tendons, move the fingers and thumb.
The carpal tunnel is a very narrow opening between bones and ligaments – even the smallest amount of inflammation can reduce this opening and press against the median nerve, which responds by sending a pain signal to the brain.
Several factors may contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition may develop as the result of strenuous, repetitive hand motion or after a wrist injury. Something in the carpal tunnel, such as a mass, blood clot or muscle may press against the median nerve. Medical conditions, including diabetes, gout, arthritis and severe infections may also cause the syndrome.
Anyone who performs repetitive hand motions is at risk for developing carpal tunnel. Women are three times more likely to develop this syndrome because females have smaller carpal tunnels. People who work in assembly lines are also at higher risk for developing this condition.
Pain, weakness and numbness of the hand and wrist, usually occuring on the palm side of the wrist and hand but may sometimes be more widespread. Discomfort may radiate to the forearm and to the shoulder but rarely to the neck. Some people have numbness throughout the entire hand. Many experience weakness of the hand to the point of dropping objects.
Symptoms can occur during daily activities, such as driving a car or holding a telephone, or while resting at night.
A doctor performs a thorough evaluation of the patient’s hands, arms, shoulders and neck to determine if carpal tunnel syndrome is causing the symptoms or if daily activities or an underlying medical condition is to blame.
During the evaluation, the physician will examine the hand and wrist for signs of swelling, tenderness, and hand weakness. The practitioner will also test each finger for sensation and look for signs of severe carpal tunnel syndrome.
Early treatment is essential to prevent permanent damage to the median nerve. Treatment starts with rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and exercise. Chiropractic care is very effective. Surgery should only be considered in cases where symptoms persist for six months or longer.