Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

By Kiely Ziegler, MD

Q. What is carpal tunnel syndrome, and how is it treated?, and how is it treated? 

A. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by excessive pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. It can cause pain, weakness, tingling, and numbness in your hand or sometimes in the inner arm between your elbow and hand.

The median nerve runs down your forearm to a small space in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. This nerve controls all the fingers in your hand except your little finger. If you have pain or weakness in the thumb and first three fingers but not your little finger, it’s likely that carpal tunnel syndrome is to blame.

Any pressure or swelling that makes the carpal tunnel smaller can affect the median nerve and cause unpleasant symptoms. This swelling could be due to a variety of culprits including an illness like arthritis or diabetes, pregnancy, obesity, or repetitive hand motions such as constant typing on a keyboard.

Sometimes all it takes is a quick shake of the hand to relieve minor symptoms. Mild carpal tunnel discomfort can also go away with rest, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), or by applying ice to the wrist, hand, or arm for 10 to 15 minutes once or twice an hour.

It’s best to start treatment as soon as you notice symptoms, in order to prevent your carpal tunnel syndrome from progressing and causing chronic damage to the nerve. If your symptoms become severe or interrupt your daily work and activities, see your doctor. He or she can refer you to a hand specialist for more intense treatment options, including advanced endoscopic hand surgery.