While there are a host of symptoms that you can experience due to CTS, the telltale signs all revolve around pain, tingling, and numbness in the hand and fingers area. The most common symptoms include pain in the hand and wrist area, a feeling of weakness in certain hand muscles, and unusual tingling and numbing sensations in particular areas of the hand. Additionally, people suffering from CTS often comment that shaking their hand forcefully tends to relieve their symptoms temporarily. While the areas affected from pain tend to be in the hand and wrist, the feelings of hurt may spread to the lower and even the upper arm. Pain is also generally reported as being more acute at night, possibly because some people turn over during their sleep and end up with their hand underneath them, with the full weight of their body on top of it.
To be certain that you have CTS and not just temporary feelings of pain, tingling, and numbness, there are some tests that either you or medical professionals can administer for a more complete diagnosis.
The first such exam is called Tinel’s Test. To perform Tinel’s Test, the median nerve is tapped along its path through the wrist. A worsening of the tingling sensation in the fingers during this test would indicate a possibly positive result for carpal tunnel syndrome.
The second such exam is called Phalen’s Test. To perform this test, push the back of your hands tightly together for one full minute. Doing so will compress the carpal tunnel area, and if the symptoms you’ve experienced thus far get worse, the test has indicated a positive result.
A third such exam, called Durkan’s Test, consists of applying firm pressure for up to thirty seconds to the palm area directly over the nerve. As with the previous two tests, a continuation or heightening of symptoms would mean the test has returned a positive result as well.
A more technical examination would involve sending electric impulses along the median nerve, and then looking for irregularities in nerve impulse conduction with a machine called an EMG. Given that the EMG exam is more involved, since it requires a visit to a medical professional, it does not typically need to be administered. However, if the symptoms you are experiencing are extremely severe or painful, an EMG exam may be necessary.
The causes of the compression of the carpal tunnel area, and thus carpal tunnel syndrome, continue to create controversy throughout the medical community, as a consensus has yet to be reached. Arthritis, diabetes, prediabetes (imperfect glucose tolerance) hypothyroidism, pregnancy, obesity, oral contraceptives, and trauma all are thought to bring on the onset of CTS. Also, repetitive movements of the fingers from typing, playing video games, or any other repetitive task using the hands and fingers over long periods of time is strongly linked to carpal tunnel syndrome. Genetics can also play a part in developing CTS. Some researchers believe that the condition can be caused by intrinsic and extrinsic factors exerting pressure from both inside and outside of the tunnel. Benign tumors in the wrist area, for example, are one such factor that could aid the condition in developing.
Given the exponential increase in computer usage over the last couple of decades, the mouse and keyboard have become targets of blame for patients who suffer from CTS. Many believe that the repeated finger and wrist movements required for typing and mouse clicking can compress the tunnel area, pinching the median nerve. Correspondingly, other activities that involve repetitive finger and wrist movements, such as tennis, weightlifting, video games, and industrial shop work have been linked to carpal tunnel syndrome.