Harvard Men's Health Watch

Numb hand: Should you worry?

Q. My right hand goes numb when I open a can or use hand tools. Is this something I need to worry about? Do I have carpal tunnel syndrome?

A. The hand receives its sensory information from three different nerves, and irritation of any of them can lead to numbness. In the hand, numbness is often related to the way that the nerve is compressed or squeezed slightly when you bend your wrist, as happens when you open a can. Excess vibration or repetitive hand motion when you use tools may also cause numbness.

If the numbness quickly fades and you don't notice any hand weakness, you probably don't need to worry. Just pay attention to the activities that cause the numbness and try to alter, avoid, or limit that type of motion. You can also try doing some wrist stretches before activities. However, if the symptoms become persistent and interfere with your activities, you should talk to a doctor.

Carpal tunnel syndrome describes compression of one of the nerves (the median nerve) as it passes through the narrow tunnel of wrist bones. You will typically feel the numbness in the thumb and index finger. Initial treatment consists of immobilizing the wrist with a brace to avoid irritation. For more severe symptoms, your doctor might recommend a corticosteroid injection or surgery.

- William Kormos, MD
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men's Health Watch

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