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Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a nerve running along the forearm, known as the median nerve, becomes squeezed or pressed near the wrist. This nerve is responsible for controlling sensations to the smaller muscles in the hand and the fingers, including the thumb but not the little finger. The carpal tunnel is a very narrow and rigid ligament and bone passageway which houses tendons and the median nerve. When the nerve becomes irritated, weakness, numbness and pain can occur in the wrist and hand or can radiate upward into the arm.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Researchers are still working to determine all the causes for carpal tunnel syndrome, and if repetitive motion is responsible or not. Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur in pregnant women, overweight individuals and people who have a number of medical conditions including diabetes, thyroid disease, arthritis and certain injuries such as fracture to the wrist. Other conditions can cause the same symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, which is why it is important to seek medical assistance for a professional diagnosis.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, when left untreated, can cause some unintended side effects and complications. When the median nerve is pinched or squeezed, it can cause a loss of strength or control in the hand and wrist, which can lead to coordination and motor problems. Atrophy or weakness in the muscles of the thumb, hand and wrist can become permanent if they are not treated effectively and early enough in the development of the syndrome. This can ultimately lead to a lack of dexterity within the effective fingers. Seeking adequate treatment is essential for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The primary symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome is a feeling of numbness in the fingers. Patients may also experience a decrease in hand function or an interference with hand strength. People who have carpal tunnel syndrome typically feel as if there is tingling or numbness in the hand. These sensations can be more pronounced in the evening, and can even wake a patient up during sleep. As this condition worsens, patients may feel a burning, cramping or weakness sensation in the hand. They may also experience a decrease in their grip strength. Some people with carpal tunnel syndrome experience severe shooting pains in the forearm.

Carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis begins with a look at the symptoms and the way that the hand numbness distributes across the fingers and hand. There is a two part examination that physicians use in order to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome effectively. The first part of the test is nerve conduction, which involves placing an electrode on the skin on the tunnels elbow side, generating a very small electrical current, which stimulates the nerve. This impulse is measured as it travels through the nerve, indicating whether or not damage is present. The second part is electromyography, which involves inserting a needle into the muscles that the median nerve supplies, measuring how much abnormal functioning is present.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome is a multi-pronged approach including anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen, splinting and surgical procedures. Pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications can help to deal with the pain and discomfort associated with the condition. Cortisone injections made into the carpal tunnel area can relieve symptoms for several weeks or months. Splinting, especially at night, can help to keep the wrist straight in order to decrease how much pressure is made on the median nerve. Some physicians will recommend endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery in order to correct the problem and alleviate symptoms.