The carpal tunnel is located on the palm side of your wrist, and it’s a narrow passageway over the bones and ligaments. When the median nerve, which runs through this passageway to the thumb and first three fingers, is continually under pressure, you can end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. The inflammation is often caused by a medical condition that causes swelling in the wrist, such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, or an autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis. Fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause and repetitive wrist movements can be another cause. When tendons that attach muscles to bone get used repetitively, they alert us via pain signals to try to protect the area from further damage. “In a small area like the wrist, tendons run through a narrow tunnel over the carpal, or wrist bones,” explains Amy Baxter, MD and CEO of Pain Care Labs, in Atlanta, Georgia. “When the cells are overtaxed they release lactic acid that can stick the fibers together for protection, and the inflammation causes swelling.” Carpal tunnel may lead to nerve damage.
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Common carpal tunnel symptoms are pain, numbness, and tingling. “Patients feel characteristic numbness and tingling of the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring digit on the palm side of the hand, most commonly at night (waking them up), while driving, using a cellphone or other activities with the hands,” says David Clark Hay, MD, of Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. “Patients will find themselves shaking their hand out to get the burning and tingling to go away.” The symptoms often develop slowly, beginning with a “pins and needles” type sensation first thing in the morning or when falling asleep at night. That’s a common sign that you require carpel tunnel treatment.