published Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Ask A Doctor: Pain and numbness in my hands that wakes me at night. Should I be concerned?

By Dr. Justin Arnold

Q: I have pain and numbness in my hands that wakes me at night. I shake them and they feel better. They don’t go numb during the day. Should I be concerned?

A: The symptoms you describe are classic for carpal tunnel syndrome, a very common condition. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve as it courses through the carpal tunnel and enters the palm of the hand. It usually affects the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers by producing numbness and tingling. The underlying cause is variable but is commonly associated with tendon inflammation or sustained positions such as wrist flexion in deep sleep that increase the pressure in the carpal tunnel. Some patients note that occupational activities produce symptoms, while others notice that daily activities such as driving and holding the newspaper are aggravating. Symptoms of carpal tunnel during the early phase usually come and go as the offending activity is either modified or discontinued. However, constant numbness or weakness may be signs of more severe compression with potential damage to the nerve.

— Dr. Justin Arnold, Center for Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society

Readers: To submit a health-related question for a medical doctor, email it to Wesley Holloway at See this space each Thursday for answers.

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