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Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a painful, even debilitating condition of the wrist, hand, and arm. It can make basic tasks nearly impossible. You can do some carpal tunnel tests at home, but it’s best to see an orthopedic specialist if symptoms recur. They can provide a confirmed diagnosis and both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition resulting from compression of the median nerve that runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand. The carpal tunnel is the space in the wrist through which the nerve runs. Pressure of the tunnel on the nerve can result in painful and uncomfortable symptoms.
CTS is typically caused by multiple factors. Repetitive motion is a common trigger. Using a computer, hand tools, or vibrating power tools are examples of activities that can contribute to CTS over time. Other risk factors include arthritis, wrist injuries, a cyst in the carpal tunnel, and being older and female.
The first clues that you might have CTS are having risk factors and experiencing common symptoms, which tend to set in gradually and come and go. Over time, they get worse and occur more frequently. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
Pain is a common symptom of CTS. It often feels like an ache on the inside of the wrist and up the inside of the forearm. The pain may also travel along the palm of the hand and into the fingers, primarily the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Pain is often worse at night.
Also common is a numb or tingling sensation in the hands and especially in the thumb and index and middle fingers. You might find that your hands fall asleep easily, resulting in weakness and losing your grip on objects.
You probably experience this issue more often with certain activities that involve grasping things, like holding a pencil, buttoning a shirt, or holding the steering wheel when driving. You might drop things more than usual or be unable to do some tasks that require a firm grip.
Pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness are the most common symptoms of CTS. You might also experience a swollen sensation in your hands, even if they don’t appear swollen. Rarely, patients with CTS report a greater sensitivity to cold temperatures.
If you have the characteristic symptoms, some simple home tests can give you a better idea of whether you have CTS:
To diagnose CTS, a doctor will go over your symptoms and perform the manual tests described above. If they suspect CTS, they can use more specific clinical tests to confirm a diagnosis or determine another cause of symptoms.
Electromyographical (EMG) tests use small electrical shocks applied to the arm, wrist, and hand. By measuring the speed at which they travel through the nerve, a doctor can determine if it is being compressed. Compression should slow down the electrical impulse.
The best way to confirm or rule out CTS is to see an orthopedic hand and wrist specialist. Symptoms will only get worse over time. Delaying treatment can cause muscle and nerve damage that may not be reversible.
If you have recurring symptoms characteristic of CTS and have positive reactions to the self-tests, it’s time to see a specialist. The hand and wrist experts at North Carolina Specialty Hospital can diagnose you and offer treatment options. Learn more and make an appointment.
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