Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The carpal tunnel is a bony canal inside the wrist. It’s formed by the wrist bones on three sides and a ligament running across the wrist on the other side. Several important structures pass through the carpal tunnel on their way from the forearm into the hand. These include the tendons that bend the fingers and thumb, as well as the median nerve—a major nerve that carries motor and sensory information between the brain and the thumb and first three fingers.
Carpal tunnel syndrome, also known as median nerve compression, is a relatively common condition that happens when the median nerve gets compressed or pinched as it travels through the carpal tunnel. Anyone can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, but it’s much more common in women.
Did you know that a woman’s chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome increases during pregnancy? This is because during pregnancy, a woman’s total body fluid volume increases by almost 50%, which can cause swelling in different areas of the body. If swelling occurs near the carpal tunnel in the wrist, it can increase pressure on the median nerve as it runs through this area.
Classic signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Pain, numbness, and/or tingling in the arm and hand—especially in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers
- Weakness or clumsiness in the hand, which can make fine motor activities like typing, writing, buttoning clothes, or turning door knobs more difficult
- Often, people with carpal tunnel syndrome feel the need to “shake out” their hands to relieve symptoms
A physical therapist can treat carpal tunnel syndrome with interventions like exercises, stretches, lifestyle or occupational modifications, and the implementation of specialized wrist splints or braces, particularly while sleeping. In more advanced cases, some patients may require steroid injections or surgery.