What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common workplace injury. Symptoms typically develop slowly, but can cause permanent nerve and muscle damage if left untreated. You may first notice the issue as a numbness, tingling or weakness in your hands. Symptoms may abate for a while but will typically continue to grow worse unless treated.

The carpal tunnel, or carpal canal, is the passageway that connects the forearm to the palm.  The tunnel consists of bones and connective tissue; several tendons, as well as the median nerve, pass through the tunnel.  The tunnel is narrow so if any of the flexor tendons (you have nine that pass through) swell, the median nerve can become compressed or trapped.  This is typically known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Moving the wrist can change the width and shape of the carpal tunnel.   If you are experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, moving your hand or wrist can become painful. The pain is often described as tingling burning pain, like pin pricks, anywhere from the fingers up the arm.  You may experience numbness or weakness as well.  Carpal tunnel syndrome is associated with repetitive use, as well as rheumatoid arthritis.

Carpal tunnel syndrome doesn’t hit all at once, it is a slow build.  You may notice it first at night or early in the morning.  It can feel similar to the pins and needles sensation following a part of your body falling asleep.  You may also start to notice pain during the day when you are holding things or driving.

The median nerve controls sensation and movement in the thumb and first three fingers, so as the issue progresses you may begin to feel weakness in your thumb and fingers.  You may drop things or find it difficult to do things like buttoning shirts or holding small objects like pencils.  You may also feel numbness in your hands.  Your fingers may feel swollen, even though they are not, and you may find it difficult to tell the difference between hot and cold.

There isn’t one specific thing that causes carpal tunnel syndrome.  Repetitive motions can contribute to the issue.  The carpal tunnel is narrow and rigid so any inflammation in the area can compress the median nerve and cause pain. Symptoms will typically develop in the dominant hand first, though you may experience symptoms in both hands.

The symptoms may disappear for a time, but as the condition worsens the symptoms will become more constant.  You may experience pain all the way up to the shoulder, and if left untreated the muscles in your hand may atrophy (waste away).  If the issue gets to this point strength and sensation may never be fully restored, even with treatment.

If you believe you have carpal tunnel syndrome it is important to get help. Chiropractic manipulation of the wrist, elbow, and spine can improve carpal tunnel syndrome and relieve symptoms.  Dr. Elsey can manipulate the joints of the wrist and hand, provide strengthening exercises and stretches as well as techniques to mobilize the soft tissue.  Call our office if you or a loved one are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.