What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Sep 01, 2023

 What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common causes of wrist pain, affecting as many as 10 million Americans

The symptoms can be painful and debilitating, but the good news is, carpal tunnel syndrome is treatable — and in most cases, it responds well to conservative, nonsurgical options.

At Sequoia Institute for Surgical Services, our team of experts treat many patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, using a patient-centered approach aimed at providing relief and preventing future problems. Here we discuss carpal tunnel syndrome and why it happens.

Wrist anatomy 101

Your wrist and hand depend on a series of tendons and ligaments to provide flexibility and movement. Many of those tendons and ligaments are found at or near the wrist. In fact, the carpal tunnel is made up of tendons and ligaments (along with wrist bones).

The tunnel serves as a passageway for the median nerve, a large nerve that travels from your neck (or cervical spine) through your arm into your hand. The median nerve provides sensation in your thumb, first two fingers, and half of your palm. 

Your ulnar nerve provides sensation to the fingers and half of the palm on the other side of your hand. If you have sensations in these areas, it’s likely due to cubital tunnel syndrome involving the ulnar nerve. 

The location of your symptoms is important, since it helps us determine the underlying cause.

Why carpal tunnel syndrome happens

Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the area inside the tunnel narrows, compressing the median nerve and causing symptoms like pain, tingling, or numbness in your fingers or palm. 

Nerve compression causes symptoms that radiate along the nerve path, including your thumb and fingers.

Many people develop carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of repetitive wrist or hand movements. For instance, if you spend many hours at your job typing on a computer or doing assembly work, irritation may develop, resulting in chronic inflammation and nerve compression. 

Other causes include:

  • Traumatic wrist injury
  • Arthritis 
  • Infection
  • Neuromuscular diseases

Sometimes, hand tingling or discomfort happens because the median nerve is compressed elsewhere, like in your neck. 

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms vary, depending on the cause and extent of the nerve compression. The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the fingers or thumb
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Pins-and-needles sensation
  • Problems grasping objects

Without treatment, some patients develop permanent nerve damage and loss of function.

Carpal tunnel treatment

Before recommending a treatment, we review your symptoms and your medical history, perform an exam of your hand and wrist, and often prescribe nerve conduction studies to pinpoint the root cause of symptoms.

Many people with carpal tunnel syndrome find relief with treatments like:

  • Activity modification
  • Ergonomic improvements, like wrist supports at work
  • Splinting
  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation

At Sequoia Institute for Surgical Services, we recommend carpal tunnel release surgery only for patients who continue to have pain and other symptoms despite these conservative treatments.

Carpal tunnel surgery uses a minimally invasive approach with small incisions, focusing on the tendons and ligaments that cause nerve compression. Afterward, physical therapy helps restore strength and function to the hand and wrist.

Find relief for carpal tunnel syndrome

Even if your symptoms are relatively mild now, carpal tunnel syndrome can develop into something much more serious. Early intervention is the key to finding relief and preventing permanent nerve damage in your wrist and hand. 

To learn how our team at Sequoia Institute for Surgical Services can relieve your wrist pain, call the Sequoia Institute, office at 559-731-2009 or book your appointment online today.