Hands are a marvel. They can grip, grab, push, pick up, catch, carry, soothe and signal. We can do so many things with our hands because of a nerve and nine tendons that snake through a 1-inch-wide passage called the carpal tunnel.
But sometimes tendons get irritated and swollen through overuse, injury, arthritis or hormonal changes. When that happens, the carpal tunnel opening narrows and pinches the nerve. That's called carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Left untreated, it can lead to hand muscle weakness and loss of feeling.
Check out these four signs that you might have CTS.
OCCASIONAL TINGLING, NUMBNESS AND/OR PAIN
CTS symptoms start gradually—coming and going—most often after you've been sleeping. It might feel like your hand or fingers are numb or "asleep." When you shake and flex your hand, it'll start tingling. That's the nerve signals flowing back into the hand.
Ongoing CTS causes your hand and, in particular, your thumb muscles to become weaker. You might drop small objects, be unable to button a shirt easily or find it hard to do other tasks that involve fine motor skills. Hand muscles lose strength and size when the pinched nerve can't communicate well with them over time.
DAYTIME TINGLING OR PAIN
Bending your wrist or holding your hand up can trigger more tingling. It might happen when you are talking on the phone, driving or reading. With longer-term irritation to the nerve, you may get pains that shoot up your wrist and arm.
NO SENSATION IN YOUR FINGERS
In the most severe CTS cases, you can't feel anything with your fingers. That makes it hard to control your hand or feel the difference between hot and cold. If you can't feel that something's hot, you could get serious fingertip burns.
TREATMENT CAN HELP
If you still have symptoms after wearing a wrist brace (particularly at night) and avoiding repetitive hand movements that cause flare-ups, see your doctor. They can diagnose CTS with a physical exam and other tests and recommend appropriate solutions.
Learn about prevention and treatment
We have more information about CTS in our health library.