Have you ever had to stop and “shake out” your hands while typing on a computer or smart phone? If so, your hand (or hands) may be affected by a common nerve impingement called carpal tunnel syndrome—indeed, one of the most common types of work-related musculoskeletal injuries affecting hard-working Americans.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is an anatomical space inside your wrist formed by bones and ligaments; this space literally acts as a tunnel through which tendons, nerves, and blood vessels pass from the forearm into the hand.
The median nerve (which branches off the “nerve highway” in your shoulder called your brachial plexus) runs from your forearm to your hand; it too passes through the carpal tunnel. It provides sensory and motor information to the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and inside half of the ring finger.
If the median nerve becomes compressed by something in the carpal tunnel area, impingement, inflammation, and injury can occur to the nerve tissue. This, in essence, is carpal tunnel syndrome. Why does it happen? To whom does it occur? What does it feel like? Let’s explore.
10 Signs That Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Could Be Affecting You
- Your thumb, index finger, and middle finger in particular feel numb, burning, itchy, and tingly.
These symptoms tend to come on gradually at first and may come and go.
- The numbness and tingling in your hand or hands wakes you up in the night.
Many of us sleep with flexed wrists, which can increase the pressure on an already impinged median nerve. As mentioned, many people with carpal tunnel syndrome feel like they have to “shake out” their hands to make the symptoms go away.
- Your fingers may feel swollen, even if they aren’t.
- Your wrist is painful, stiff, and tender.
- Your symptoms appear in your dominant hand first.
- You have a hard time grasping items.
You may struggle with tasks such as picking up your phone or opening doors.
- You have trouble performing fine motor tasks.
Your dexterity and fine motor skills like pincer grip can become impaired due to both weakness and numbness.
- The muscles at the base of your thumb atrophy
Eventually, the fleshy base of your thumb, called the thenar eminence, can get smaller and weaker due to prolonged median nerve damage.
- You have several positive risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Anything that causes space in the carpal tunnel to decrease can compress the median nerve. Here of the most common risk factors:
- A history of wrist or hand injury
- Cigarette smoking (increases inflammation)
- Pregnancy (increases fluid retention)
- Other health conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, overactive pituitary gland, or under-active thyroid gland
- Cyst or tumor development in the carpal tunnel
- Repetitive stress or movement in the wrist, especially those related to a person’s occupation (e.g., frequent typing, assembly line work, sewing, use of vibrational tools, etc.)
Usually, some combination of the above or additional factors will be at play, but it may not always be fully clear.
- You’re a woman.
According to the National Institute of Health, women are about three times as likely as men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome (often noted as CTS).
Does it sound like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome might be affecting you? Don’t keep guessing, contact Life In Motion Physical & Hand Therapy to schedule a hand therapy consultation and find out more about how we can help.