What Does Carpal Tunnel Feel Like

Ever wonder what carpal tunnel feels like? Do you worry that you have carpal tunnel?

Today we will go through the basic symptoms and feelings that can be associated with carpal tunnel. A common theme that you will hear through this article is that not everyone presents the same way. However, there are some common themes.

Tingling at Night

The most common symptom of carpal tunnel is that it starts with tingling at night. The tingling usually occurs in the hands (and in particular fingers that we will go through next) and comes and goes. Most people wake up with symptoms and may either shake our their hands or hang their arm off the bed to improve their symptoms.

This likely occurs because when we sleep, most of us hold our wrists in either flexion or extension. When our wrists are in this position it makes the carpal tunnel narrow down, which can result in compression of the nerve (that leads to carpal tunnel syndrome)

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Nighttime Progression to Daytime

The tingling often goes from being limited to the nighttime to starting to bother you during the daytime. As time goes on the symptoms go from being intermittent to nearly constant.

The timing between each progressive step or worsening of symptoms (for example, nighttime to daytime or intermittent to constant), is highly variable between different people. It might be the matter of a couple weeks or may be the matter of couple months. It is variable because we all do varying degrees of activities with our wrist

What it Actually Feels Like

Most people describe the feeling like a painful tingle – almost like the pins and needles sensation when your foot falls asleep. Some people describe the pain like a burning sensation, shocking sensation, or a “shooting” sensation.

For some people, the sensations are bothersome, but not unbearable. For other people, they cannot stand the sensation and even need to be put on medications by their physicians for their symptoms. This simply shows how variable the symptoms can be from person to person.

Dominant Hand Typically Effected First

Carpal tunnel often manifests itself with symptoms in both hands. However, a person’s dominant hand typically has symptoms first and/or has more severe symptoms. It is unclear why this is the case, but may be because the dominant hand is being used more frequently.

Thumb, Index Finger, Middle Finger, and Ring Finger

The textbook answer to which fingers are affected are the first four fingers – the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and ring finger. The symptoms usually go from the wrist into these 4 fingers.

Nonetheless, people present with all different types of patterns. Some people report that their whole hand is numb. Other people report that only two of their fingers are numb. Still other report that the pain shoots across their whole arm. Surely, if you ever had these symptoms, you will realize why there are so many differences in personal accounts – it’s really hard to accurately describe.

Tingling to Numbness

Once the tingling becomes more constant during the nighttime and daytime, the next symptoms is typically numbness. People usually notice this when they start fumbling with small objects such as pens and paperclips. When you lose sensation, you no longer have the tactile feedback to help you with fine motor tasks

Numbness to Weakness

Once the numbness has set in, the next step is the onset of actual weakness. This is most frequently noticed as difficulty opening jars or door knobs. When your nerve within the carpal tunnel is affected, it affects certain muscles that are involved with your grip and grasp.

Next Steps

Since the symptoms can be so varied, it is important to seek medical professional advice to make sure your symptoms are not a more severe diagnosis or do not warrant further testing.

If you have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, then I recommend you buy a brace to help prevent your wrist from being in positions that can narrow the carpal tunnel. Wearing the brace as much as possible give you the best chance of recovery. Oftentimes you will hear to wear the brace at nighttime. However, if you can also wear the brace during portions of the day time for at least a couple weeks, this will only increase your chances of recovery.

You also want to evaluate your work environment to maximize your ergonomics. You need to reduce activities that can narrow the carpal tunnel. Look at your keyboard setup and your mouse setup if you frequently use the computer. Also consider the position you are when you are reading books, tablets, or phones. You do not want to put your wrist into excessive extension. These are activities that you may want to consider wearing your brace for.

Icing the actual wrist for 10 minutes at a time might also be helpful as it may help to decrease some of the inflammation.

I recommend that you also try to perform some median nerve glides.