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What is the Carpal Tunnel?

Allison Boelcke
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The carpal tunnel is a narrow area that is located under the ligament, a band of tough tissue, of the wrist. It consists of both tendons, which are connective tissue between the bones and muscles, and nerves. One of the primary nerves in this area is known as the median nerve, which is located down the forearm into the wrist. When the median nerve becomes irritated or otherwise affected, it can cause pain in the tunnel and lead to the condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

When the area near the carpal tunnel, especially its tendons, becomes swollen or inflamed, it can result in the tunnel becoming more narrow and pressing down on the median nerve. This narrowing of the tunnel is often due to repetitive movements of the wrist that may end up irritating the median nerve. It can also be caused by having a naturally smaller carpal tunnel, which can make even slight constriction of the tunnel press down on the median nerve and cause symptoms.

The median nerve primarily controls movement and feelings in the thumb and all of the fingers except for the little finger. When this nerve becomes constricted, a person will typically begin to experience the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The most common symptoms are mainly in the thumb and fingers, but may also occur in the wrist or even up the forearm. These symptoms typically occur slowly over time and may include numbness, tingling, or burning in the affected areas, and in severe cases, decreased ability to make a fist or grip objects.

The syndrome can be treated; however, the treatment option will generally depend on how long the symptoms have been occurring and their severity. At its beginning stage, the condition can often be treated by resting the wrist and hand for approximately two weeks in order to reduce swelling in the nerves and tendons. Medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory for minor cases and corticosteroids for more serious instances, may also be prescribed to reduce swelling. A surgical treatment option involves making a cut in the ligament surrounding the tunnel in order to enlarge the area and reduce constriction of the nerves. If treatment is not given, it can lead to serious complications, such as deterioration of the muscle near the base of the thumb or decreased ability to feel temperature sensation in the hands and fingers.

The people who tend to be at the highest risk of developing issues with the carpal tunnel are those who perform repetitive daily tasks with their hands, wrists, or fingers. These may include sewing, typing, line-assembly manufacturing, or meat packing. Underlying conditions that affect nerves, such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, also make a person more likely to have swelling of the tunnel.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Allison Boelcke
By Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke, a digital marketing manager and freelance writer, helps businesses create compelling content to connect with their target markets and drive results. With a degree in English, she combines her writing skills with marketing expertise to craft engaging content that gets noticed and leads to website traffic and conversions. Her ability to understand and connect with target audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By nony — On May 07, 2011

@everetra - My understanding is that people with carpal tunnel symptoms need to eat a diet that is high in B6 or B12. I think you can get this from most meat products but they recommend you take supplements for maximum dosage. Other than that, I’ve heard that Yoga and acupuncture have been effective treatments as well.

By allenJo — On May 07, 2011

@everetra - Yes, nowadays they also have carpal tunnel surgery where the doctors will perform what’s called a “release” and free up the muscles so that they don’t press down on the carpal tunnel so much. I don’t know if your condition is so bad that you need to go that far. I guess you should just keep monitoring it to make sure that it doesn’t get worse. I’ve also heard that chiropractors can help in this area, using special electric massagers that will release a lot of the tension so that the nerves aren’t compressed. I had a friend who got tremendous relief from going to a chiropractor. He also had to wear a splint for some time as well.

By everetra — On May 04, 2011

I’d like to add my two cents’ worth to this excellent overview of carpal tunnel. Among the people most associated with this condition in our day are computer programmers, not just the other occupations mentioned. I know. I speak from experience.

A few years ago I had this condition and began to feel strain not only in my wrists but also in my forearms. I even had strains in my back as well. I went to the orthopedic clinic and they gave me a bunch of exercises to perform on a daily basis for my carpal tunnel treatment. These exercises strengthened my muscles and made it easier for me to perform routine tasks without straining myself like I used to. I did some other things as well, like putting ice compresses and alternating with heat packs to reduce inflammation.

All of these things helped tremendously. As for taking a two-week break, the closest I ever got was when I was on vacation but that was only one week. Other than that, my condition has improved tremendously.

Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke, a digital marketing manager and freelance writer, helps businesses create compelling content to connect with their target markets and drive results. With a degree in English, she combines her writing skills with marketing expertise to craft engaging content that gets noticed and leads to website traffic and conversions. Her ability to understand and connect with target audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
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