Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a form of repetitive strain injury to the wrist caused by excessive compression of the arteries, veins and nerves that supply the hand as they pass through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.

This tunnel is shaped like a letter ‘D’ lying on its side and consists of an arch of small bones which is held in place by a band of fibrous tissue. If the ligaments become slack, the arch will flatten, and the nerves, arteries and tendons within the tunnel will become compressed.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is far more common in women and in those undertaking repetitive tasks or using vibrating tools and in pregnancy.

Patients experience numbness, tingling, pain and weakness in the hand.

X-rays of the wrist and studies to measure the rate of nerve conduction in the area confirm the diagnosis.

Splinting the wrist, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, injections of steroids into the wrist, oral steroids and therapeutic ultrasound are the main treatments.

Most patients will eventually require minor surgery to release the pressure. This can now be performed by an endoscope with minimal scarring. Permanent damage to the structures in the wrist and hand can occur if not treated, but the operation normally gives a lifelong cure.

Illustration showing carpal tunnel syndrome - compression of the arteries, veins and nerves in the hand

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(Last modified: 5th Nov 2014)

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