Numbness in hands is a condition that many people experience. It can happen while a person sleeps, while talking on a phone or even driving a car. The numbness can be caused by increased pressure on a nerve in the palm of the hand. Many refer to this as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
What Causes Numbness
The most common cause of numbness in hands is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or CTS. Because of the pressure on the nerve, CTS can result in pain, weakness and/or numbness in the hand and fingers. Most often the thumb, index, middle and ring finger are affected.
Oftentimes there is no obvious cause to CTS. There is a variety of risk factors for example, women are more affected than men and the chance of having CTS increase with age. Medical conditions that can be linked to CTS are obesity, diabetes, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, alcoholism and drug toxicity. There is evidence that pregnancy is related to CTS especially during the third trimester and could be associated with fluid retention.
The most common symptom indicated is a feeling of discomfort, tingling or numbness that wakes people from their sleep. Daytime actions like driving a car or holding a book may exacerbate nighttime discomfort of tingling and numbness in hands. Both hands may suffer CTS at the same time, though it is common that one side may feel worse.
CTS diagnosis can be done by an exam performed by a physician or hand specialist. If you suspect you may have CTS please share all of your symptoms with your physician.
Several tests may be done to diagnose CTS. A physician may look for other factors that cause numbness like a pinched nerve in the neck or elbow. They will also test the small muscles in your hand, for loss of strength, as well as test the sensations in your fingertips for any loss of feeling.
If you suspect you may have CTS you may be asked to do a nerve study. A nerve study requires stimulating the median nerve and measuring how well the nerve conducts the signal. The second segment of the nerve study is to test the electrical activity of the small muscles in the hand.
Treatments for Numbness in Hands
There are non-surgical treatments for CTS, except for extreme cases. Generally speaking, the first line of treatment would be to wear a a wrist splint at night and sometimes during the day. Sometimes over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed or more aggressive treatments like steroids, ultrasound or occupational therapy.
If non-surgical measures are ineffective your physician may recommend surgery. Referred to as Carpal Tunnel Release, the surgery involves releasing the pressure on the nerve by cutting the ligament that sits above the nerve, putting pressure on it. CTS surgery can be done with minimally invasive techniques that are very effective at relieving symptoms and speeding recovery.
If you have numbness in your hands or suspect CTS please speak with your physician or contact Heiden Orthopedics.