Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve that travels through the carpal tunnel in your wrist gets compressed and irritated. The picture below is a cross section of your wrist and carpal tunnel.
The nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel is called the median nerve. The signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome all revolve around the median nerve being compressed and irritated. Therefore, this section should really be called the signs and symptoms of median nerve irritation.
- Tingling, numbness, pin and needles, or altered sensation in your thumb, index and middle fingers along with 1/2 of the ring finger. The median nerve distribution is depicted as the green shaded area in the picture below. Your symptoms can be in all of the distribution (green area) or part of it and the symptoms can be constant or occur only with use.
- Weakness and/or pain with gripping.
- Pain at night, may wake you up.
- Wrist and forearm pain.
- It is rare to see any visual changes with your hand, except in the advanced stage when the muscles controlling your thumb will get smaller (pictured below). The median nerve supplies these muscles and when it has been compressed for too long they will waste away, get weaker and smaller. You should be properly treated long before this happens.
Unfortunately, the term carpal tunnel is commonly used anytime someone has tingling or symptoms in their fingers. The reality is there are many causes of tingling or symptoms into your fingers making it crucial that you seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis (we will cover who to see in part 3). In part 2 we will cover two of the more common causes of pain that mimic carpal tunnel.