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Numbness in the Hand

Damon Adamany, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon with subspecialty training in hand surgery.

Question:  I have numbness, tingling and pain in my hand. What are the most common reasons and what can be done about it?

Answer: The symptoms you describe can indicate carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition characterized by compression of the nerve in the wrist that is responsible for some of the sensation and movement of the hand. Such nerve compression can lead to a loss of dexterity along with the numbness, tingling and pain you describe. Often, people report these feelings and sensations while reading a newspaper, holding a telephone, buttoning buttons or even driving. In many cases, the symptoms can become more pronounced while sleeping. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the single most common condition treated by hand surgeons, yet there is no known confirmed cause. One popular myth suggests that computer use is to blame; however, many people who never use computers develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Since the condition rarely goes away or improves on its own and almost always worsens without treatment, it is wise to investigate your treatment options.

A nerve test known as electromyography (EMG) to analyze the electrical activity and functioning of a person’s muscles as well as a nerve conduction study to assess nerve functioning can help confirm a carpal tunnel diagnosis.     

Non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome include splinting the wrist to allow the nerve time to rest, anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and aspirin, and cortisone injections. While these options may provide some relief, surgical release of the ligament around the nerve may offer a permanent solution. 

This relatively simple outpatient procedure can be performed using a regional anesthetic. Patients typically have a small dressing on the hand for 10 to 14 days after surgery. Many surgeons do not require further immobilization. Most patients return to their full activities within about four to six weeks of surgery. 

In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can develop in both hands. With rare exception, surgeons almost always operate on one hand at a time to help minimize the impact of recovery limitations. 
Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur in either hand (it is not linked to or associated with one’s handedness), and it can occur at any age and among any gender. 

You can learn what experts have to say about carpal tunnel syndrome and other orthopedic conditions affecting the hand on the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website, as well as the Banner Health website.

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