The carpal tunnel is a structure in the wrist that contains the tendons that control the fingers and then median nerve, which innervates the thumb and first two fingers.
When the carpal tunnel is too small and/or inflammation occurs in the tendons that run through it, the median nerve becomes compressed, causing symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling in the wrist, hand, and fingers.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Tingling and numbness in palm, thumb, or first two fingers, especially during the night or in the morning. The sensation may cause people to want to “shake out” the hand.
- Aching pain in the wrist and hand, with occasional shooting pains up the forearm
- Weakness in the hands and fingers and trouble gripping or holding objects
Carpal tunnel syndrome is treated with nonsurgical methods such as splinting, ice therapy, and behavioral modifications. It can also be treated surgically with a procedure called carpal tunnel release.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome vs. Cervical Radiculopathy
Carpal tunnel syndrome is not the only condition that can cause numbness and tingling in the hands and wrists. These symptoms can also be caused by problems in the cervical spine.
Watch: Cervical Spine Anatomy Video
Conditions such as a herniated or degenerated disc, cervical stenosis, or cervical osteoarthritis can trigger impingement on the C6 or C7 nerve roots, which originate in the cervical spine and innervate almost the same areas of the hand as the median nerve.
Because they’re both conditions caused by nerve impingement, both carpal tunnel syndrome and cervical radiculopathy cause similar symptoms: dull pain, tingling, and/or numbness, with occasional shooting pains along the nerve path.
A comprehensive neurological evaluation can help identify whether the symptoms are being caused by carpal tunnel syndrome or a cervical spine condition. In fact, sometimes the two conditions are seen together, as nerve compression at the neck can make the nerves lower down more vulnerable. Clinical evaluation, electrodiagnostic testing (EMG), and possibly neck imaging can help put together the pieces of the puzzle.
Both carpal tunnel syndrome and the various causes of cervical radiculopathy require treatment to prevent long-term nerve damage. Individuals with numbness and tingling in their hands or wrists should see their physician for diagnosis and treatment.