Hand pain can be caused by a number of different ailments. There are a huge number of structures in the hand that allow it to have its functional ability. The bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves all may be sources of pain. Trauma can easily damage any of these specific structures. However, one of the most common syndromes to affect the hands is carpal tunnel syndrome.
Pressure on the median nerve in the wrist may cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand. The median nerve and several tendons of the hand travel through a narrow space in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve provides sensation and motor function to the thumb and first two fingers. Difficulty with pain, tingling and weakness in these fingers is often from median nerve injury in the carpal tunnel region.
The cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is pressure on the median nerve in that confined space. Swelling in the region of the wrist can cause pressure. Medical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroid, and rheumatoid arthritis may also be causes. Obesity, hypertension, and pregnancy with fluid retention can also bring about symptoms. Even more commonly, repetitive motions of the hands and wrists, such as typing or the use of a keyboard or mouse, can cause the injury.
The diagnosis can be made by a physician exam with several tests that may reproduce pressure on the nerve and symptoms in the distribution of the median nerve. Confirmation of the diagnosis is made with electrodiagnostic testing of the median nerve and comparing it to other nerves in the hand. If the study is abnormal, the diagnosis is confirmed.
Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome depends on the severity of symptoms. Mild symptoms and changes to the median nerve are treated by reducing the repetitive activities and causes. Rest and splints are great at alleviating mild CTS cases. Moderate cases may be helped by anti-inflammatory medications and steroids with hand physical therapy. Severe cases, where significant damage has occurred to the median nerve, usually require surgery to resolve damage or prevent further damage.
Thomas Cohn, MD
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