Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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A painful condition caused by compression of the median nerve, which runs along the forearm to the wrist. Although anyone can develop it, people with diabetes seem to be more prone to developing it than people who don’t have diabetes. By some estimates, carpal tunnel syndrome affects up to 20% of people with diabetes, compared with 3% to 6% of the general population.

The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel formed out of ligament and bone located at the base of the hand, through which nerves and tendons pass. If there is swelling of the tendons, this may cause compression of the median nerve. Some people are naturally predisposed to developing carpal tunnel syndrome because of narrow carpal tunnels. However, environmental factors are important, too: The condition is especially common among people who work on assembly lines.

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome usually begin gradually. Pain, weakness, and numbness begin in the hand and wrist and radiate up the arm. As the symptoms get worse, the person may find it difficult to make a fist or to grasp small objects. The initial treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome involves wearing wrist splints and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Other forms of relief include applying ice packs and having corticosteroids injected directly into the carpal tunnel. Severe cases may require surgery to relieve the compression.

A number of measures can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or keep it from recurring. Among these are performing stretching exercises, taking frequent breaks from activities that involve the hands and wrists, wearing splints on the wrists to discourage flexing and twisting, and making workplace changes that promote proper posture and wrist alignment.

Originally Published April 1, 2011

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