INCREASED HOURS SPENT on computer keyboards and digital devices can put people at risk for a relatively common and oftentimes painful condition that affects mobility in the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS, can cause numbness, pain and tingling in the hand or arm as a result of one of the major nerves of the hand – the median nerve – being compressed in the wrist.
The American College of Rheumatology says that CTS may be the most common nerve disorder experienced today, affecting between four and 10 million people in the United States alone. Middle-aged to older individuals are more likely to develop CTS than younger persons, and females are diagnosed three times more frequently than males.
What is the carpal tunnel? The carpal tunnel is a passage that forms in the wrist on the palm side of the hand. It is located just beneath the skin surface. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says the carpal tunnel is a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones. Eight small wrist bones form three sides of the tunnel. The width of the tunnel is only about an inch.
Injury or inflammation to the tissues inside of the carpal tunnel can shrink the space of the tunnel, eventually pressing on the tendons and the median nerve that runs through this narrow area.
What is the role of the median nerve? When compression occurs in this area of the wrist, a key nerve is affected. The median nerve originates in the neck and runs through the arm. The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel at the wrist and goes into the hand, providing feeling to the palm side of the thumb and to the index, middle and part of the ring fingers (although not the little finger). It also controls some small muscles at the base of the thumb.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel include weakness of the hand as well as tingling and numbness. The numbness particularly affects four of the fingers. It can occur when holding a phone, book, newspaper or steering wheel or engaging in just about any activity that involves the hands. CTS also may wake a person up from sleep.
There are a number of other compression issues that can occur in the hand and arms, causing similar pain and tingling in other areas. Ulnar nerve compression in the elbow can cause part of the ring finger and pinky finger to tingle and may be indicative of a different ailment. That's why a professional diagnosis must be sought when experiencing symptoms related to CTS.
When to see a doctor? If pain and tingling are affecting activities and sleeping patterns, individuals should see their doctors. Various nonsurgical remedies and therapies may help. If left untreated, any condition that affects nerve function may lead to permanent nerve and muscle damage.