If you have experienced sharp pain, numbness or tingling in your hand or wrist, chances are — you are suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. However, are the symptoms confined to just your hands, or can it be an indicator of other illnesses? Here’s a quick fact sheet on this common ailment.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs when a particular nerve supplying the hand and wrist, Median nerve, gets compressed in the wrist. This nerve controls movement and sensation over the outer aspect of the wrist, palm and fingers, after passing through a narrow tunnel within the wrist, where it can get entrapped under moderate increase in pressure.

What are the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Symptoms most commonly affect the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. The little finger will not be affected since it is supplied by a different nerve, and its sparing can hint at the presence of the syndrome. Most people report feeling like the area has gone numb, weak or tingly. An electric shock-like feeling may appear. Others may have pain in the same region, or in the forearm. If the condition is severe, the muscles at the base of your thumb can get wasted.

What causes Carpal Tunnel syndrome?

A number of causes exist, including any structural abnormality of the wrist, or even wrong posturing of the hand. More commonly, it can appear as a symptom of several diseases, such as hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and excess growth hormone. These diseases cause swelling of the covering of the wrist, thus crowding the compartment through which the nerve runs. Sometimes, it can arise during pregnancy, as well. Your doctor may order several tests to rule out these causes.

What treatments are available?

Initially, symptoms may be relieved on resting the limb in between work. Cold compresses can also provide some comfort. However, as nerve damage takes a long time to recover from, it should be treated the earliest.

Non-surgical options include using a splint to reduce movement, or painkillers and steroids to decrease symptoms. Sometimes the condition can improve if the underlying cause is treated.

There are also several surgical options that provide long-lasting release. Your surgeon will either open up the wrist or use an endoscope to cut the tightening ligament that is putting pressure over the nerve, thus removing the source of symptoms.

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