The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located in the wrist. It is formed by the bones of the wrist (called carpal bones) and a thick band of connective tissue that binds it all together.
Several important structures run through the carpal tunnel, including the median nerve and tendons that control finger movement. Carpal tunnel syndrome is when the median nerve becomes compressed within the carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome is often colloquially referred to as carpal tunnel. In reality, the carpal tunnel is a normal anatomical structure in a healthy person’s wrist.
Anatomy Of The Carpal Tunnel
If you look at the palm of your hand, the carpal tunnel is located between your wrist and your arm. The bones of your wrist form a deep groove for the tendons and median nerve to pass through to the hand. If you use your thumb to press down on your wrist, you will feel the groove with the structures passing through.
The carpal tunnel is bordered by the small bones of the wrist and a thick band of connective tissue, called the flexor retinaculum. On the thumb side (lateral), the carpal tunnel is bordered by the trapezium and the scaphoid bones. On the pinky side (medial), the carpal tunnel is bordered by the hamate and pisiform bones. These bones are tiny - they are part of the eight bones that make up the wrist joint.
The hamate and the trapezium are located on opposite sides of your wrist. They have hook-like projections that bend inwards towards each other. The ends of the flexor retinaculum connect to the projections of the hamate and trapezium and to the pisiform, extending over the groove and closing it to form a tunnel.
Several structures that maintain the function of your hand run from your arm, through the carpal tunnel to your hand and eventually your fingers. These structures include the median nerve, the four tendons of the flexor digitorum profundus, the four tendons of the flexor digitorum superficialis and the flexor pollicis longus.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes compressed within the carpal tunnel. Compression can be caused by swelling of the tissues in and around the carpal tunnel, or by thickening of the ligaments.
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and fingers. Symptoms often occur in the thumb, index, and middle fingers. In some cases, weakness and a loss of grip strength may also occur. Carpal tunnel syndrome often develops gradually and may feel worse at night or in the morning.
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome can affect anyone, but certain factors can increase the likelihood of developing the condition.
- Repetitive hand or wrist movements: Jobs or hobbies that involve repetitive hand and wrist motions, such as typing, assembly line work, or playing a musical instrument, can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Anatomy of the wrist: People who have a smaller carpal tunnel or who have a wrist fracture or dislocation may be more prone to developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and hypothyroidism, can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Gender: Women are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men.
- Age: Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in people over the age of 50.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy can increase fluid retention and swelling, which can compress the median nerve and lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treated?
Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome depends on the severity and duration of the condition. The goal of treatment is to reduce pressure on the median nerve by reducing inflammation and swelling in the wrist.
Resting the affected hand and avoiding activities that aggravate the condition can help to reduce symptoms. A wrist splint can help to keep the wrist in a neutral position and reduce pressure on the median nerve. Splints are usually worn at night, but can also be worn during the day if necessary. Physical therapy exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the hand and wrist can help to reduce symptoms.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help to reduce pain and inflammation. Corticosteroid injections can help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. In severe cases, orthopaedic surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the median nerve. This involves cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel to create more space for the median nerve.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent permanent damage to the median nerve and improve the chances of a full recovery. If you're experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional.
Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The carpal tunnel is a normal anatomical structure in a healthy person’s wrist, formed by bones and ligaments and containing several important structures, including the median nerve and tendons that control finger movement. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed within the carpal tunnel.
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, include pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and fingers. Several factors can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, including repetitive hand or wrist movements, certain medical conditions, and pregnancy. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in preventing permanent damage to the median nerve and improving the chances of a full recovery.