Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can affect anyone. It is the most common form of nerve entrapment, and one of the most common conditions affecting the hands. Symptoms vary from person to person and typically include numbness, pain or tingling in the thumb and first three fingers of the affected hand.
There are many possible causes though in most cases the cause is unknown and while the condition is not serious, it does need treatment. Symptoms can improve with rest, medication or splinting but surgery is likely to be needed for long-term relief.
Who can be affected by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
If you have been diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you are not alone – between 7% and 16% of people in the UK suffer from the condition. The condition can affect anyone, though it is more likely to develop in people between 40 and 70 years of age, and women are more susceptible than men.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is not a serious condition, but it can impact on day-to-day life and over time may gradually get worse. And if left untreated, can lead to weakness and loss of coordination in the fingers and thumb. There is also a risk of more severe damage including muscle wasting in the hand. Thankfully permanent damage is rare, and early treatment will help prevent it.
How does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome develop?
The condition develops when the carpal tunnel inside the wrist swells and places pressure on the median nerve which passes through it. The median nerve runs from the forearm to the palm and gives feeling to the first three fingers and palm-side of the thumb. When the nerve is squeezed it causes tingling, numbness or pain, sometimes described as ‘pins and needles’. While the feeling is usually worse in the thumb and fingers it can feel like your whole hand is affected and it’s not unusual for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome to develop in both hands. Most often, the dominant hand is the first to experience symptoms and is usually the most painful.
What can I expect from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Symptoms can come on gradually over a period or onset may be sudden. Early on, the tingling, numbness or pain may be intermittent, often made worse by excessive use of the hand. Over time, symptoms will become more constant, with the possibility of persistent numbness. While the primary symptom is impaired sensation other symptoms include:
- Pain and numbness in the hands, especially at night
- Weakness in the thumb and fingers
- Difficulty gripping
- Loss of coordination in the thumb
- Pain or ache in the fingers which may spread to hand, wrist, arm, shoulders and neck
- Difficulty with activities which requires fine finger movements such as fastening buttons
What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
There are several possible causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Repetitive action and overuse of the fingers and wrist through work-related activities and hobbies are commonly considered to be the most likely cause. However, there are some other factors which may contribute to its development. In many cases the cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome often isn’t known, and around 50% of cases are hereditary. Others possible reasons are:
- Underactive Thyroid
- Wrist injury
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- End-stage renal disease
- Being overweight
- Medication side-effects
Can I live with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
While it is possible to live with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, it can be extremely painful and very uncomfortable. However, it can be treated easily and quickly. Early treatment relieves the discomfort sooner, helps avoid unnecessary permanent damage and makes day-to-day activities easier.
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