Nearly two million Americans suffer from symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful and degenerative disorder of the nervous system.
These painful symptoms prevent people from working, taking care of their families, and doing the things they enjoy. Symptoms for carpal tunnel syndrome can be vague and sometimes easy to ignore – until the disease causes serious nerve damage. Recognizing the symptoms of carpal tunnel can prevent this damage and reduce the risk of permanent nerve damage.
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, occur when the median nerve becomes pinched or squeezed at the wrist. The median nerve, which runs between the elbow and the hand, controls sensations in the palm side of the thumb, first three fingers, and half of the ring finger. This nerve also sends impulses to small muscles in the hand that control the thumb and finger function.
The median nerve then runs through a narrow passageway in the base of the hand, known as the carpal tunnel. The median nerve shares this small space with many tendons that may sometimes become irritated and swollen, an thus, compress the median nerve. This compression causes symptoms commonly associated with carpal tunnel, such as pain, numbness, tingling, and loss of hand function.
Symptoms for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The symptoms for carpal tunnel include burning, tingling/numbness, sweating, and itching. These symptoms usually occur in the palm of the hand and fingers, especially in the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Someone suffering carpal tunnel might say that their fingers feel swollen and useless, even though the fingers appear normal. The symptoms can occur while driving, holding on to the steering wheel, reading a book, newspaper, or iPad, or while on the phone.
Those who perform repetitive tasks are most likely to suffer symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Symptoms for carpal tunnel syndrome usually start slowly and can appear in one or both hands. These symptoms often start at night. Some people wake up feeling they need to “shake out” their hands and wrists. Tingling may persist throughout the day.
As carpal tunnel syndrome progresses, so do its symptoms. Pain may shoot up one arm. The individual may lose grip strength, making it hard for her to form a fist, grab small objects, pinch, or write with a pen. In chronic, untreated, or poorly treated cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb may begin to waste away. Some people lose sensitivity to temperature in their fingers, unable to tell the difference between warm and cold.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome for more than a few days should consult with a hand doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment by a qualified hand specialist reduces the symptoms for carpal tunnel. Non-surgical treatments, such as non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs can temporarily relieve some of the symptoms that have been present for a short time.
Surgery may be appropriate for those whose symptoms have lasted for six months. Surgery is used in moderate to severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, to prevent permanent nerve damage and permanent loss of hand function. Carpal tunnel surgery often relieves symptoms right away, although a full recovery may take longer.