Carpal tunnel syndrome
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Typing all day on a computer keyboard can be tough on your wrists. If you type for hours at a time, day after day, eventually you may really start to feel some discomfort. The numbness, pain, and tingling you feel in your hands and wrists may be carpal tunnel syndrome, and it can have such a big effect on your life that you may eventually need surgery to treat it.
Doing any repetitive motion with your hands, whether it's typing, sewing, driving, or writing, can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition gets its name from an area in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. Running through this tunnel is the median nerve, which sends feeling to your palm and most of your fingers. When you do the same task over and over again, especially flexing and extending the wrist, you put pressure on the median nerve. Over time, it swells up inside the carpal tunnel until it's so tight in there that the nerve gets pinched.
The classic symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are numbness and tingling in your hand, including the thumb, index, middle, and half of the ring finger. The discomfort is usually worse at night. And anytime you may not be able to grip things as tightly in the affected hand, and you can feel pain that may stretch all the way from the wrist to your elbow. Your doctor can run tests on your hand to confirm that your numbness, weakness, and pain are due to carpal tunnel. You may also have nerve conduction studies, or tests of the muscles.
If you're feeling a lot of discomfort from carpal tunnel wearing a wrist splint especially at night could help. In addition, short term oral or injected glucocorticoid medications can help by reducing swelling. Studies have also shown some benefit from physical or occupational therapy techniques, and joga. About half of the people with carpal tunnel though will eventually need a procedure called carpal tunnel release to lift pressure off the pinched nerve. Surgery is a more permanent solution, but whether it works depends on how severe the nerve damage is, and how long you've had it.
You may not be able to completely avoid the repetitive flexing or extending the wrist that gave you carpal tunnel in the first place, especially if it's part of your job. But, you can make some adjustments, for example, by using special devices like a cushioned mouse pad, wrist braces, or a raised keyboard, to relieve the pressure on your wrists. Take occasional breaks whenever you're going to be typing or doing any other repetitive task for long periods of time. And if you are having any numbness, tingling, or pain in your hands or wrists, see your doctor sooner rather than later. Letting carpal tunnel syndrome go untreated could leave you with a permanently damaged nerve.
- Last reviewed on 2/26/2016
- Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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