Skip to main content

Fingers on pins and needles? Get help for carpal tunnel syndrome

Maybe your work-from-home situation means has moved from temporary to indefinite, but your workspace is still the kitchen table or the sofa. It could be that your job or hobbies require repetitive movement – or maybe you are pregnant or just scrolling through the day. Whatever the cause, carpal tunnel syndrome should not be ignored.

Carpal tunnel syndrome results from compression on the median nerve, one of the nerves that goes to the hand, Megan Friend, an orthopedic surgeon with Bon Secours St. Francis – Greenville, said. 

“That nerve travels through a small tunnel across the wrist and inside that tunnel also are the tendons that bend the fingers of the hand,” Friend said. 

Anything that takes up space in that tunnel – inflammation or fluid, for example – tightens the space and can compress the nerve. The result is numbness and tingling in the thumb, the index finger, the middle finger and half of the ring finger. Friend said the “pins and needles” sensation comes and goes at first. It may progress to keeping sufferers awake at night and could eventually cause constant numbness and weakness.

The condition is often associated with jobs that require computer use all day, though repetitive manual work, diabetes and other conditions, and even pregnancy can be the cause. Phone use for an extended period of time can provoke symptoms. If pregnancy is the culprit, Friend said it will often resolve after delivery. No matter what the cause, numbness in the hand should be addressed by a doctor.

With early symptoms, Friend said braces to keep the wrists straight may be needed at night. Physical therapy may help. And if work is creating the condition, an ergonomic desk setup and frequent breaks from the keyboard are indicated. Left unaddressed, carpal tunnel syndrome can eventually cause irreversible nerve damage. Friend said tests may be needed to determine its severity and course of treatment, which could include a cortisone injection or possibly surgery, which is usually done on an outpatient basis.

Though it is rare to see carpal tunnel syndrome in children and adolescents, it is becoming more prevalent in those in their 20s. The earlier symptoms are addressed, the better. 

“If you notice this becoming a pattern, definitely have it checked out,” Friend said.