Understanding carpal tunnel syndrome starts with understanding the anatomy of the hand and wrist. The median nerve is one of the main nerves in the hand. It starts in the neck and extends through the forearm and wrist to control many actions of the hand.
The median nerve travels through a narrow passageway called the carpal tunnel. When this tunnel narrows or becomes pressured by surrounding tissue, the subsequent compression of the nerve causes tingling, weakness, numbness and pain.
Repetitive motions of the hand and wrist are common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome. Common everyday activities that can cause the syndrome include typing, piano playing, overuse of power tools, and knitting.
However, other diseases can increase the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Individuals who suffer from conditions that cause inflammation such as gout, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, and obesity are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Women who become pregnant may suffer from an onset of carpal tunnel syndrome due to fluid retention.
Treating carpal tunnel syndrome early is imperative to preventing long term damage. If symptoms appear to be caused by repetitive activities such as typing, investing in ergonomic solutions such as wrist rests or a computer mouse can help alleviate pain, in addition to taking more frequent breaks.
More progressed cases of carpal tunnel may require medical intervention. Nonsurgical therapies can include wrist splints for added support, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief, and corticosteroids to decrease swelling and inflammation. Serious cases may require surgical intervention, including open or endoscopic surgery. Both surgeries involve making cuts to the ligaments of the hand to free the compressed nerve.