Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition associated with that "pins and needles" feeling in your hands. Many are familiar with that common sensation, but when the tingling, numbness or pain in your hands wake you up at night, it could be a sign of something more serious. 

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve at the wrist, limiting blood supply to the nerve in this area. The median nerve is associated with the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers and these are the digits affected by this relatively common problem.

Symptoms and risks of carpal tunnel syndrome

The most common symptoms of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome are:

  • being awakened at night from sleep, with tingling in thumb, index, middle finger, and half of ring finger
  • pain in the fingers and palm
  • pain that radiates up into the forearm and upper arm
  • a feeling of “pins and needles” in these fingers of the hand 
  • an inability to hold onto objects or dropping objects because of loss of feeling in the fingertips

How is carpal tunnel diagnosed?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed by an evaluation with a hand surgeon. The surgeon will assess your medical history and perform a physical examination of the fingers, thumb, and wrist. Your doctor may also order a nerve test called electromyogram and nerve conduction velocity testing.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome

The type of treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is based on the length of time patients have had the condition. Wrist splints are often recommended, which often results in improvement of the numbness, tingling and pain for most patients. Occasionally, the use of a cortisone injection is required in addition to the use of the splint. Finally, in patients who do not see improvement with these conservative treatments, surgery may be an option. This surgical procedure is extremely successful and is one of the most common surgeries performed today.

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

No specific cause is known for carpal tunnel syndrome; however, it is believed that frequent, repetitive movements can result in the compression of the nerve. Other conditions that may impact it are hormonal changes, injuries, arthritis and more.

How to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome

It is very difficult to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. It is important to address worksite issues, like ergonomic positioning of your workstation and keyboard. Some patients may find some relief through physical therapy and stretching exercises as well.

If you think you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, we can help. Learn more on our website.

Edward Akelman, MD

Dr. Edward Akelman is an orthopedic surgeon at the Lifespan Orthopedics Institute and chief of the department of orthopedics at Rhode Island and The Miriam hospitals. He specializes in hand, upper extremity, and microvascular surgery.