Carpal tunnel syndrome – also known as CTS – is a condition of the wrist and hand that can affect the use of the whole arm. This common condition affects 1 out of 20 people in the U.S.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow funnel that is formed by the bones and tissues in your wrist. This tunnel serves to protect your median nerve. The median nerve is what helps move your thumbs and the first 3 fingers on each hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when those other tissues found in the carpal tunnel get swollen, inflamed or press against the median nerve. It’s that pressure that can make part of your hand painful or even feel numb.
Common Carpal Tunnel Signs and Symptoms
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually begins gradually with numbness or a tingling sensation in your thumb, index and middle fingers that comes and goes. Symptoms may include:
- Tingling or numbness in hand and fingers—especially the thumb, index and middle fingers
- Pain in wrist, palm or forearm
- More numbness or pain at night—the pain may even wake you up from sleep
- Increased pain when using hand or wrist
- Difficulty gripping objects such as a doorknob or the steering wheel of a car
- Weakness in your thumb
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome often will relieve pain and numbness and restore normal use of the hand, wrist or arm without a need for surgery. Your physical therapist will prescribe your treatment plan based on your specific case. Treatment options for carpal tunnel may include:
- Education—changing wrist positions, proper posture, stretching techniques
- Exercises—to increase the strength of the muscles in your hand, fingers and forearm
- Stretching—to improve the flexibility of your wrist, hand and fingers
- Use of cold/heat treatments for pain relief
- Use of a splint to provide comfort and alleviate pain
How is Carpal Tunnel Diagnosed?
Your doctor may:
- Ask you about your symptoms
- Examine you and ask how you use your hands
- Perform a nerve conduction tests or an EMG test to see if the nerves and muscles in your arm and show the effects of CTS
The goals of hand therapy are to reduce your carpal tunnel symptoms without the need for surgery. Hand therapy will enable you to be as active and functional as possible and help you resume your normal home, work and everyday activities.