Do you wake at night with tingling, aching hands? This could be a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome usually come on gradually but occasionally start very quickly. Patients describe intermittent ‘pins and needles’ in some, or all of the fingers supplied by the nerve, often at night. Driving, holding a newspaper or phone often sets it off too. Some patients also get pain on the front of their forearm which can be very unpleasant, almost like an electric shock.
If left untreated the hand can start to feel weak and uncoordinated so that fine tasks, such as doing up buttons, become difficult. One or both hands can be affected but often one side is worse than the other.
Who can be affected?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common problem that affects women more frequently than men – as many as five in every 100 women may suffer from it during their lifetime. Pregnancy and the menopause can bring on the symptoms and it is more common if you are overweight.
You are slightly more likely to get the problem if a close family member suffers from it or if you have conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or an underactive thyroid. Usually, however, there is no obvious cause for the condition.
Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The diagnosis is made by listening to your symptoms and examining you to see if there is any evidence of pressure on the nerve. There are other conditions that can give you tingling in your hands and these might need to be investigated with tests such as nerve conduction studies.
Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Sometimes the symptoms will clear up by themselves but if symptoms persist you might try wearing a wrist splint at night or a steroid injection around the nerve. The steroids reduce swelling in the area which relieves the local pressure on the nerve.
Surgery is an option for people who have intrusive symptoms which haven’t responded to non-surgical treatment or for those who start to develop signs of permanent nerve damage at their fingertips, such as numbness all the time. The operation divides the tight strap over the nerve and reliably cures the problem in 95% of people. The procedure only takes about 20 minutes and is nearly always carried out under a local anaesthetic. You don’t need to stay overnight in the hospital and you are encouraged to start using the hand again for light activities immediately after the surgery. Patients can usually go back to work after a couple of weeks – depending on their job.