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What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

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By Marc Courtiol

The carpal tunnel is a very small tunnel that is located on the inside (or palm side) of your wrist. It is surrounded by ligaments and bones, and its main function is to provide protection for the primary nerve that goes to your hand and fingers.

While many people tend to think that the only cause of this condition is extensive hours spent typing on computer keyboards, the reality is that there are a number of causes that lead to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms

When pressure is placed on the nerve that the carpal tunnel protects, the physical symptoms that are produced include numbness and pain. If the condition is left untreated, then eventually a significant amount of weakness starts to be quite noticeable.

For most people, carpal tunnel syndrome begins with aching in the wrist, hand, or forearm. Other symptoms that may be present include the following:

  1. Weakness in the hands – some people may start having difficulty holding on to objects as a result of this.
  2. Numbness or tingling in the fingers or hands – this usually occurs in the thumb and all fingers, except for the little finger.
  3. Pain that radiates – from the wrist, either down into the hand and fingers or up the arm to the shoulder.

If you start to experience a significant amount of pain or weakness, particularly if it interferes with your ability to perform normal, daily activities, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. Try not to let your symptoms linger for too long before you seek medical attention, as permanent muscle or nerve damage could occur.

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The actual cause of this condition is application of pressure to the nerve that the carpal tunnel protects. This nerve is called the median nerve, and it provides sensation to your fingers.

With some people, the carpal tunnel may be narrower than it should be which can lead to the development of this condition. In addition, there are a variety of health conditions that can cause carpal tunnel syndrome to develop.

Diabetes, menopause, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disorders can be underlying causes. Fluid retention can also lead to the development of this condition, which explains why some pregnant women tend to have these types of problems.

Of course, the most talked about cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive motion. This is particularly true with extended periods of prolonged use, such as typing on a computer keyboard for hours at a time, day after day.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be caused by the frequent, prolonged use of power tools and assembly line work. People who are regularly involved in any type of activity that includes heavy use of the hands are at an increased risk of developing this condition. This is particularly true if the activities require awkward, forceful, or repetitive hand or finger movements.

Other contributing factors to the development of this condition include heredity and sex, as women are approximately three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.

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