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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

If you have pain or numbness in your thumb or the three fingers next to it, or a weak thumb, you probably have carpal tunnel syndrome, an extremely common problem in people who use their hands repeatedly for work or sport.

Look at the palm of your hand. The median nerve passes through a ridge of bone where your thumb ends in the middle of your palm. It sends a branch to your thumb as it travels toward the three fingers next to your thumb. The nerve can be damaged when it is stretched or pinched repeatedly. It is stretched when you bend your wrist backward on the handlebars when you ride a bicycle, or when you use a screwdriver or hammer. The nerve is pinched when you bend your wrist forward when you type or play the piano.

There are no medications or injections that will help you heal faster. The only effective treatment is to stop using your wrist in the way that caused the injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome is treated with rest and splinting to hold the wrist almost straight. If that doesn't work, some doctors recommend surgery, but the vast majority of people with carpal tunnel syndrome don't need surgery. Carpal tunnel syndrome may be caused by nerve damage from lack of vitamin B12, diabetes, Lyme disease or other conditions that damage nerves. The wrist nerve is affected first because it is used repeatedly in several tasks at work and sport.

If you have pain or numbness in your thumb or the three fingers next to it, ask your doctor to do a workup for causes of nerve damage. If none is found, you can follow conventional treatment of using a splint to rest your wrist.

By Gabe Mirkin, M.D., for CBS Radio News

Checked 7/4/16

June 2nd, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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