Recognizing carpal tunnel syndrome can be tricky. The most common symptoms are tingling, numbness, or pain in one or both hands, or in the finger. The symptoms are usually worst at night, but may also occur when picking up a telephone, a book, or a coffee cup. All these activities involve holding the wrist in a flexed position. The flexing applies pressure to the carpal tunnel nerve as it goes through the wrist.
If the symptoms are mild, a wrist brace can be worn to prevent wrist flexing—particularly at night. An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen may also help. Some exercises are known to reduce the symptoms. They are available at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons' Web site at www.aaos.org/word.html/pat_educ/exerci.htm. If only one hand is affected, give it a rest by using the other. For example, switch the mouse to the other hand. Pick up a telephone or coffee cup with the other hand, and push the shopping cart with the other hand. Also, stretch out the wrists several times each day.
A mild case usually disappears in a week to 10 days. If not, consult a doctor. Doctors usually begin with an anti-inflammatory that is more powerful than over-the-counter medications, but in a small minority of cases they perform surgery.