You wake up in the middle of the night with your hand numb and tingling again. You shake your hand and run it under water but can’t get the feeling to return to normal. It seems like this is happening more frequently and even occurs when you’re at work, using the computer, or even holding your coffee cup.
Are these symptoms normal for you to be having? Or could this be carpal tunnel syndrome?
“If you’ve been noticing numbness and tingling in your hand and fingers, you may be experiencing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a pinched nerve in your wrist,” says Dr. C. Liam Dwyer, a hand and upper extremity surgeon at Geisinger Woodbine Lane.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Located in your wrist at the base of your palm, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway of bones and ligaments that nine tendons and the median nerve travel through. The median nerve, which extends from your neck and shoulder into the palm of your hand and to your fingers and thumb, provides the sensation to your thumb, index, long, and ring fingers. The sensation for the small, or pinky, finger comes from a separate nerve. The median nerve also provides the signals that control the movement of the thumb and some of the other small muscles in your hand.
“Swelling or inflammation of the tendons and tissue traveling with the median nerve within the carpal tunnel can limit the space available for the nerve. This can cause the nerve to become compressed which limits the ability of the nerve signal to pass to and from the hand causing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome including numbness, tingling, weakness, and sometimes pain,” Dr. Dwyer says.
With carpal tunnel syndrome, you may feel numbness, tingling, weakness or pain in your fingers, hand and wrist that radiates up your arm. While these sensations could potentially be caused by other health conditions, carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common cause for the median nerve to become compressed.
“There are many factors that can play a role in contributing to the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Common factors to consider include the patient’s structural anatomy, associated medical conditions, and repetitive activity,” explains Dr. Dwyer. Traumatic, forceful or repetitive hand movements, hand-arm vibration, or working for long periods in the same or awkward positions can lead to the progression of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome typically starts gradually, with symptoms that come and go, and can worsen over time without treatment. Discomfort in the hand and wrist may be associated with numbness and tingling. Over time, these symptoms can become more constant. Some people experience weakness in their hand and tend to drop things. If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to permanent loss of sensation along with loss of control and function of the hand.
What to do if you are experiencing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
If you’re experiencing persistent symptoms of numbness, tingling, weakness and pain that are interfering with your normal daily activities and sleep, make an appointment with your doctor.
“If you have carpal tunnel symptoms, especially if you are having them consistently, it’s important for you to call your doctor for an evaluation. If left untreated, carpal tunnel can lead to permanent nerve and muscle damage,” notes Dr. Dwyer.
Some people with carpal tunnel can ease their discomfort by taking frequent breaks in their activity, avoiding aggravating activities and using ice packs to reduce occasional swelling. However, if you aren't getting relief from these treatments, it’s time to visit your doctor to talk about a treatment plan.