Carpal tunnel is a painful condition that develops in the wrist and hand and is caused by entrapment or compression of a major nerve as it passes through a narrow area of the wrist called the carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome is associated with pain, numbness and tingling sensations in the palm and fingers, and without proper care, it can result in loss of dexterity and reduced grip strength. People who have the condition typically experience periods of cramping that can interfere with work, grasping objects and other daily activities, as well as the ability to sleep, and the thumb may become stiff and weak.
The nerve compression that causes carpal tunnel syndrome most commonly occurs when the carpal tunnel at the base of the wrist becomes inflamed and swollen, usually as a result of repetitive motions of the hand and wrist. People who use keyboards for long periods of time or perform other wrist- or finger-related tasks are especially prone to developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Leaning the wrist on the edge of a desk while working can also cause nerves to become compressed, and some types of traumatic injuries including wrist fractures and slip-and-fall accidents also can cause the condition to develop. People with small wrists are more likely to be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome since the structures that comprise the tunnel may also be smaller or more compressed.
Mild symptoms may resolve with rest and application of ice to help reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory medications can reduce the inflammation that causes impingements to occur. To prevent worsening or recurrence, lifestyle changes may be necessary and a splint may need to be worn when typing or performing other repetitive tasks to help the area heal and to prevent painful symptoms. Many patients also benefit from injections of corticosteroids into the wrist area to resolve inflammation so healing can begin more quickly.
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