Compression of the Median Nerve

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway made of ligament and bone located in your wrist at the base of your hand. It houses the median nerve, which runs from your forearm into your palm and supplies sensation to your middle and index fingers, your thumb and half your ring finger.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that occurs when swelling and inflammation narrow the space inside your carpel tunnel and cause compression and pinching of your median nerve.

The cause of carpal tunnel syndrome cannot always be identified, but repeated use or injury is typically a contributing factor. Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Children are not usually affected.

Carpal Tunnel Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome tend to start slowly, causing minor numbness in your fingers and hand. They are often first noticed at night.

As the condition progresses, symptoms worsen and may include:

  • Frequent numbness, tingling or pain in your thumb or first three fingers
  • Burning and pain that spreads up your arm
  • Muscle weakness in your hand
  • Wrist pain at night that interrupts your sleep
  • Difficulty grasping objects or maintaining your hold
  • Inability to complete tasks that require precise motions, like buttoning your shirt

Diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome begins with a detailed examination of your wrist, shoulder, neck and hand to determine any causes of nerve pressure.

Additional testing may include:

  • X-rays
  • Nerve conduction tests to measure nerve impulses and control
  • Phalen test to assess hand strength
  • Tinel’s sign to evaluate tingling in your fingers

Physical therapy and lifestyle changes can often alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome and eliminate symptoms. When carpal tunnel surgery is required, it has a very high success rate.

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Top-Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopedic providers in the country by U.S. News & World Report. This honor was earned because our doctors consistently deliver exceptional patient care and outcomes through their commitment to advanced treatments, translational research and provider training.

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Our orthopaedic specialists work together through our dedicated Penn State Bone and Joint Institute. There, they focus on providing you with multidisciplinary, tailored care and state-of-the-art treatments and technologies. This produces the highest-quality patient outcomes. All physicians at the institute are fellowship-trained and subspecialize in additional niche areas of orthopaedics, including arthritis care and joint arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery).

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Penn State Bone and Joint Institute is a Blue Distinction Center for Knee and Hip Replacement. This superior designation from BlueCross BlueShield is only given to health care facilities and providers that stand out for their expertise in delivering specialty knee and hip replacement care. Our surgeons specialize in a range of pain-relieving procedures, including partial knee replacement, total joint arthroplasty, joint preservation surgery and complex revision surgery. They perform more than 1,000 joint replacement procedures every year.

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We developed a special joint replacement education website just for patients undergoing joint arthroplasty. The website takes you step by step through the joint replacement process. From things to consider before choosing surgery to recovery after surgery, you’ll find the information you need to help you feel confident in your decision to undergo joint replacement.

Advancing Orthopaedic Medicine Through Research

The doctors and researchers in our Center for Orthopaedic Research and Translational Science at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are committed to advancing our field through scientific discovery and education. As the only academic medical center in central Pennsylvania, Hershey Medical Center is a national leader in research, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine, and on the leading edge of new treatment options, including clinical trials.

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