Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common condition that causes a burning, tingling sensation, numbness and sometimes pain in the hand and fingers. It tends to be worse at night and develops gradually usually affects the thumb, index finger and middle finger. Other symptoms can include pins and needles, thumb weakness or a dull ache in the hand or arm.
Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve, which controls sensation and movement in the hands.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage in your wrist made up of small bones and a tough band of tissue that acts as a pulley for the tendons that bend the fingers.
In most cases, it isn’t known why the median nerve becomes compressed. However, some things do increase the risk of CTS including:
- a family history of CTS
- fluid retention from menopause or pregnancy – up to about 50% of pregnant women develop CTS but it often gets better within three months of the baby being born
- wrist injury
- other conditions, e.g. diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis
- strenuous, repetitive work using the hand
- fractures or trauma to the wrist
- CTS is more common in women and becomes more likely as you get older
Treating carpal tunnel syndrome
CTS can disappear without treatment, or the symptoms can be reduced.
Some patients find wrist splints and corticosteroid injections effective. Surgery may be offered if these treatments fail to relieve the symptoms and it may also be necessary if there’s a risk of permanent nerve damage.
Surgery will relieve the symptoms of mild CTS immediately. People with severe nerve damage can take longer to recover, or there may not be any improvement.
Patients are usually be able to return to work within a few weeks of surgery, dependent on their job.