27th Jan 2010

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a disease that affects the muscles in a person’s wrist and hand. It results from the prolonged compression of a nerve in the wrist called the median nerve. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (often referred to simply as Carpal Tunnel) weakens the muscles in the hands and causes numbness in the hands and fingers. The earliest symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome is a faint pain in the hand, wrist, and forearm. The pain becomes gradually more severe and other symptoms develop as the condition worsens.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagram

Why is it Called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a canal in the wrist through which the median nerve passes. When the carpal tunnel becomes compress or its contents (which include nine different tendons that operate the hand) swell, the median nerve is affected and carpal tunnel syndrome results.

What Factors Contribute to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The exact cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is not very well understood, because there is no distinct cause and effect correlation in CTS patients. There are many conditions that have been found to contribute to the development of CTS, including traumatic injury, pregnancy, arthritis, and problems with growth glands.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome has been found to be most often tied to genetics. The conditions that create the environment in which the median nerve is compressed appear to be hereditary. With regard to occupation and habit, there is an ongoing discussion about whether repetitive motions (such as typing) can cause CTS. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates work environments in attempt to reduce the probability of work-related incidents of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but other experts (American Society for Surgery of the Hand – ASSH) suggest that there is no concrete causal relationship between performing repetitive work tasks and being diagnosed with CTS. Despite the ASSH’s assessment, there is clear evidence that the development of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is common among people who have the genetic disposition towards the disease and whose habits promote its development.

Do I Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Diagnosis of CTS is done by performing electromyography (EMG) scanning, which tests the electrical properties of the cells of the muscles. People who feel they may have CTS can take clinical tests, including the Phalen’s maneuver, Tinel’s sign, and the Durkan test, that allow physicians to elicit symptoms of the disease by flexing the wrist to evaluate numbness or by applying pressure to check for irritated nerves. A person who tests positive on an EMG exam and to one or more of the clinical tests is very likely to have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The ultimate treatment for persistent cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is surgery. Other less expensive and less severe treatments include immobilizing braces, hand stretch exercisers, medication (such as injection with a localized steroid), and rehabilitative therapy. Changes in work environment to improve ergonomics associated with performing a job are often included as part of the solution.