Why Does My Hand Go Numb?

One of the most common things people come to see me for is hand numbness. It’s very common. It can happen for multiple reasons such as a neck problem, an injury, or another medical problem like diabetes. However, today we are going to talk about one of the most common reasons and that’s carpal tunnel syndrome. Almost everyone has heard this and it’s because the vast majority of the population will get it at some point.

So what does it look like? Well most people in the early stages say, “you know I wake up in the middle of the night and feel my hand tingling and I have to shake it out” or “whenever gripping things like a steering wheel my hand starts to go to sleep”. Sometimes people have a burning pain going into their fingers. If this is you then you probably have carpal tunnel syndrome.

So what is it? You have many nerves that control your hand. The median nerve is central and on the palm side of the hand and this is the one being affected. There’s too much pressure on it. Likely over the years the ligament has become thickened and it basically is choking the nerve. And at first its not so bad but it can continue to get worse without treatment.

How can you treat it? Usually in the early stages you can treat it with simple things like a wrist brace at night and an anti-inflammatory such as Advil or Aleve. If that doesn’t work or you have let it go too long then surgery could be an option. The good news is that IF it comes to surgery then its very straight forward, doesn’t require a lot of time off work, and in most cases doesn’t need therapy afterwards.

What’s the biggest mistake people make with carpal tunnel syndrome? I think the biggest mistake is people waiting too long for any sort of treatment. Carpal tunnel syndrome is nerve damage. In the beginning, everything should get better quickly and be reversible, however, if you let go for a long time then there is a possibility of some permanent nerve damage. Everyone has heard someone say “yeah, my uncle had the surgery for that and it didn’t get better.” Likely, the person had symptoms for far too long and by the time they sought treatment, some of the damage couldn’t be reversed.

Finally, while hand tingling or weakness can be subtle, it’s important to get it seen about because you need your hands to do almost everything in life and you need them to work your whole life. I encourage everyone to let their primary care doctor know if they are experiencing any of the symptoms we talked about today or we are happy to see and evaluate you as well.

Dr. Daniel M. Avery III is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in general orthopedics, hand surgery, sports medicine and upper extremity with OrthoSports Associates. He is a medical columnist for the Herald.