Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is the compression of the median nerve as it runs through the carpal tunnel of the wrist. This compression causes tingling, burning, numbness or some combination of these on the palm side of the thumb and first three fingers, which may or may not be accompanied by wrist pain.
If left untreated, these symptoms progress gradually until the hand grows numb, the person loses sensitivity to heat and cold, the hand feels weaker or feels swollen even though no visible swelling exists. The sensation of a swollen hand is often a good indicator of a more severe case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Not all hand or wrist pain is caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Luckily, there are a few simple tests that a person can perform themselves to determine if their symptoms are caused by a compressed nerve in their wrist. Some of these tests are a three-question self-evaluation, a Tinel Test, a Phalen Test and a Hand Elevation Test.
The three physical tests are classified as “provocation tests” because the intent is to physically “provoke” the symptoms to temporarily appear. Because of the nature of these tests, performing more than one in very quick combination leads to false positives; the amount of specific manipulation of the median nerve in the wrist from the combined tests temporarily induces some the symptoms of CTS in people who don’t actually have it.
People trying to determine if they have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome should answer the following three questions:
1. Do at least two of my first four fingers tingle or feel numb?
2. Are these sensations stronger when I first wake up or at night than they are during the day?
3. Can I reduce these sensations by shaking or flicking my hand?
Those people who answer “yes” to two or more of the questions are likely to have CTS.
Phalen Test also called the Phalen Maneuver
To perform this test, the person puts their elbows on a table and puts the backs of their hands together, wrists bent and fingers pointing down. If numbness, pain or tingling develops in the fingers within a minute, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is probably present. The more quickly the symptoms appear the more severe and advance the syndrome is. A person should not remain in this position for longer than a minute as it creates false positives in people who don’t actually have CTS.
To perform this test, the person should tap lightly above the median nerve on one of their wrists with the index finger of the other hand. If this tapping causes symptoms like tingling or numbness, CTS is probably present.
Hand Elevation Test
In this test, the person lifts their hands over their head and holds them there for two minutes. If tingling or numbness develops during that time, CTS is probably present.
For anyone wondering if that pain in their hand is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the tests outlined above provide a quick and simple self-diagnosis. They take very little time and can be performed by nearly anyone. Armed with the information from these tests, a person can then decide if their discomfort is something they can remedy themselves or if they need to talk to a doctor.