Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
So there you are, working at your desk in Scottsdale, trying to ignore the tingling or numbness you’ve had for months in your hand and wrist. Suddenly, a sharp, piercing pain shoots through the wrist and up your arm. Is it just a passing cramp? More likely, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome; a painful progressive condition caused by compression of a key nerve in the wrist.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common cause of nerve compression in the upper extremity. Over 1 million people are diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the United States each year. Whether you have a clerical job in Phoenix, or a construction job in Mesa, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can affect anyone. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness. Patients can have any or all of these symptoms depending on which nerve fibers are compressed. What’s in a name? Well, the carpal tunnel is the passageway in the wrist that is made up of carpal bones (8 of them are in the wrist) and the ligament connecting everything (the transverse carpal ligament). The median nerve and the tendons that connect the fingers to the muscles of the forearm pass through the narrow tunnel, which these structures form.
What’s happening? Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed because of swelling within the carpal tunnel. This swelling within the tunnel is often due to an increased amount of tissue surrounding the tendons, however there are several conditions which can also increase the swelling and subsequent pressure within the carpal tunnel. This increased pressure not only decreases the function of the nerve, it often decreases the amount of blood flow supplied through the median nerve, which can lead to permanent nerve injury. How important is this? The median nerve provides sensation to part of the thumb, index, middle finger, and the ring finger. It also gives power to the muscles in the forearm and hand, which allow the hand to grasp. When this nerve becomes compressed or pinched, then numbness, tingling, and pain of the affected fingers may occur and radiate into the forearm.