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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Introduction

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where there is excessive pressure on the median nerve. This is the nerve in the wrist that allows feeling and movement to parts of the hand.

Anatomy

The median nerve and several tendons run from the forearm to the hand through a small space in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve controls movement and feeling in the thumb and first three fingers, but not the little finger.

Causes

Pressure on the median nerve causes carpal tunnel syndrome. This pressure can come from swelling or anything that makes the carpal tunnel smaller. Some reasons that can lead to having carpal tunnel include conditions such as diabetes, pregnancy, obesity, wrist injuries, smoking, or making the same hand or wrist motions over and over.

Symptoms

Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain in the fingers or hand.  Some people may have pain in their arm between their hand and their elbow. Symptoms most often occur in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. If you have problems with your other fingers but your little finger is fine, this may be a sign that you have carpal tunnel syndrome.

Diagnosis

A physician can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome by doing a thorough medical exam and patient history. Your doctor will want to test the feeling in your fingers and the strength of the muscles in your hand, because these can be affected by carpal tunnel. Some doctors may recommend an x-ray of the wrist to rule out any other potential problems.

Treatment

Physical therapy can aide in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome by helping to reduce the symptoms that it causes, as well as educating you on ways to avoid experiencing these symptoms. Your therapist will teach you different exercises to increase the strength of the muscles in your hand, wrist, and fingers, as well as exercises to improve your flexibility. You may be directed to wear a splint which can help ease the discomfort that carpal tunnel causes.

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