Fingers feeling weird?
Carpal tunnel can be a serious condition that causes numbness, tingling or decreased sensation and possible weakness in the hand.
And, according to Dr. William Vitello, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, between two and three percent of the population can experience symptoms of carpal tunnel in their lifetime.
“Carpal tunnel is excessive pressure on the median nerve at the level of the wrist,” says Dr. Vitello. “The numbness and tingling is generally in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and part of the ring finger.”
The carpal tunnel itself is a space in the wrist where the median nerve and nine tendons pass from the forearm into the hand, according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.
“Risk factors can include heavy, forceful and repetitive gripping or grasping in addition to prolonged pressure on the nerve with some recreational activities, such as bike riding or different racket sports,” says Dr. Vitello. “There are also a lot of medical conditions that can bring on symptoms, and carpal tunnel is more frequently seen in people with diabetes or who are pregnant. Computer keyboarding is often thought of as a cause, but it has not been proven to cause carpal tunnel.”
Dr. Vitello stresses, though, that people often develop carpal tunnel without any identifiable cause or risk factors.
“It’s important to address the symptoms even if the risk factors mentioned don’t apply to you,” says Dr. Vitello. “The symptoms are serious when you have prolonged or constant numbness in the fingers that will not go away. Numbness also sometimes wakes people up at night. If that happens routinely, you should see a hand surgeon.”
Treatment options include wrist splinting at night, steroid injections and modifying your activities, all designed to avoid or decrease pressure on the nerve.
“These methods are often successful,” says Dr. Vitello. “But if, after time, you have continued problems, surgery can be an effective treatment to relieve the pressure.”
So, when should you see a physician?
“People often wait too long,” says Dr. Vitello. “If you notice these symptoms and they’re persistent for weeks or months, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a hand surgeon.”
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