What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Thumbs down: It’s super common. Thumbs up: It’s pretty easy to treat.

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Raise your hand if you know one of the most commonly experienced nerve disorders.

A round of applause for those who guessed correctly—it’s carpal tunnel syndrome. It affects up to 5 percent of people in the United States, and it disproportionately affects women, according to UpToDate from Wolters Kluwer.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Just inside the surface of the palm lies the carpal tunnel. It’s a collection of small bones, ligaments, and tendons. The transverse carpal ligament stretches to cover the top of the “tunnel,” and eight small bones form the bottom and sides. In the middle are nerves and tendons, which help flex and bend your fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is when you have swollen tissue in the area, which then squeezes the nerves within the tunnel. This may cause symptoms such as:

  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Tingling
  • A pins and needles sensation

It can even lead to loss of hand function around the palm at your thumb joint. These sensations can possibly extend up the forearm as well.

Common Causes

Usually, carpal tunnel syndrome can happen from repetitive actions involving your hands, such as:

  • Driving
  • Holding a book open
  • Playing video games
  • Typing on computers
  • Playing certain sports or games
  • Using your phone with one hand
  • Performing certain job tasks, such as working in an assembly line

People with certain conditions are also more prone to carpal tunnel syndrome. These risk factors include:

Treatment may include pain medication like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Many people also find it helpful to wear a splint to keep the wrist straight. Some people also benefit from a cortisone injection, or even surgery to widen the tunnel and relieve pressure on the median nerve.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be very uncomfortable and affect your quality of life. It has a reputation of not being a “big deal,” but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. If you’re losing motor function in your hand, visit a doctor to thumb through your options.