- By Jason Howland
Mayo Clinic Minute: What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that creates numbness and tingling in your palm from the thumb to ring fingers. It occurs when a nerve on the palm side of the hand is compressed or irritated in some way. Often, a combination of risk factors contributes to the development of the condition, which tends to create initial symptoms at night.
Several treatment options are available to relieve tingling and numbness, and restore wrist and hand function.
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A pathway within the structure of palm side of the hand creates the problem.
"This is the carpal tunnel ligament," says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sanj Kakar while pointing to a model of the inner workings of a human hand. "The median nerve is this yellow structure."
Carpal tunnel syndrome is simply pressure on that nerve. A majority of the times, doctors don’t know why, but sometimes it can be due to a mass or thickening of the tissues in the carpal canal.
"And patients will generally complain of numbness and tingling," says Dr. Kakar. "It mainly happens at nighttime."
Dr. Kakar says if symptoms are ignored, carpal tunnel can lead to difficulties doing what were routine tasks, due to clumsiness of the fingers.
"Women have difficulty doing their bra," he adds. "Men have difficulty doing the top button of their shirt."
Dr. Kakar says, for some patients, wearing a wrist brace at night can ease symptoms. A steroid injection may help – although the effect can wear off over time. The next step is a short surgery to open the tunnel and relieve the pressure.
"All we are doing is literally opening up this band," says Dr. Kakar, referencing a computer animation of a carpal tunnel surgery."
"The actual procedure takes five to 10 minutes," explains Dr. Kakar. "And it’s amazing the number of times you see patients who say, 'I didn’t realize that’s all it took.'"