Carpal Tunnel Home > Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressively deteriorating condition of the hand and wrist caused by compression of the median nerve. As the median nerve is squeezed, less blood and nutrients flow to it, causing pain, numbness, and weakness in the fingers and thumb. The condition usually occurs only in adults, and women are three times more likely than men to develop it.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition of the hand and wrist. It is caused by the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, being pressed or squeezed at the wrist.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition. It is thought to affect about 4 out of every 100 people in the United States and cost several billion dollars per year in time lost from work and in medical costs.

What Causes It?

The carpal tunnel is a narrow space in your wrist. It has a ceiling, floor, walls, an entrance, and exit. The "walls" and "floor" are made up of bones. The carpal ligament is the tough "ceiling" of the carpal tunnel.
Running from the forearm to the hand and through the carpal tunnel is the median nerve, which controls some of your hand muscles and allows you to feel sensations with your hand. Several tendons also pass through the carpal tunnel.
In a normal wrist, there is adequate room in the carpal tunnel for both the tendons and the median nerve. But the carpal tunnel and the space allowed for the median nerve and tendons cannot get bigger, because the bones and ligaments that form the tunnel will not stretch. Therefore, anything that adds to this space will compress the tendons and median nerve.
As the median nerve is squeezed, less blood and nutrients flow to it. Without these essential nutrients, it becomes damaged and is unable to function normally. This results in carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often caused by a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself.
(Click Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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