What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition of the wrist, hand and fingers which is caused by pressure on nerves that run through the wrist. Specifically the median nerve of the arm passes over the carpal bones at the front of the wrist and the tunnel created by the bones at the back and soft tissues at the front of the tunnel can cause compression to the nerve resulting in the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms
There are a number of symptoms related with carpal tunnel syndrome. People may experience sensations ranging from feeling pain, tingling, or burning sensations to noticing weakness with their hand. Symptoms may include:
- Be experienced in one, or both hands.
- Often, but not always worse at night.
- Cause aching in the hand which can extend up into the forearm.
- Be associated with pain, pins and needles, or a tingling or burning sensation. Usually felt in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the “thumb side” of your ring finger. However it should be mentioned that an individuals nerve innervation to these areas varies from person to person so this is a guide only.
- Cause weakness with gripping, typically weakness with your thumbs contribution to the gripping activity. Something people will frequently notice is difficulty carrying a heavy bag.
- In severe or long standing cases the thumb may show evidence of muscle wasting, which can sometimes be quite obvious.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
As briefly mentioned earlier the median nerve of your upper limb travels down the arm and then at the wrist passes through a narrow tunnel created by the bones and ligaments of the wrist. If narrow tunnel becomes compromised and causes pressure around the median nerve it may result in the pain, numbness, tingling or weakness symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are a few medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk of suffering carpal tunnel syndrome such as:
Testing For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your GP or physiotherapist can assess you for signs of carpal tunnel syndrome. A thorough history combined with a physical examination of the area including using the Phalen’s and Tinel’s tests are frequently sufficient to confirm a diagnosis.
Phalen’s test: Is a tests used where you fully bend the wrist forward with your fingers pointing downwards and hold it in this position for 60 seconds. A positive test sign for carpal tunnel syndrome is if it reproduces your symptoms.
Tinel’s sign: A positive sign for the Tinel’s test is when tapping over the median nerve at the level of the wrist on the palm side of the wrist causes pain to shoot from the wrist into the hand.
Although not always necessary the use of investigations can help with diagnosis. Possible tests your doctor or physiotherapist may refer you for could include:
Nerve conduction study: This test is considered to be the definitive test used to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome.
X ray’s: Or other similar investigations such as an MRI may be used to help exclude other possible causes of your symptoms.
Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome should consult his or her general practitioner, physiotherapist or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.