Skip to main content
Woman with wrist hand pain, carpal tunnel syndrome

Blue And Cold Fingers: Could It Be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Do your fingers feel very cold and turn blue when exposed to a drop in temperature? You may be experiencing symptoms of Reynaud’s (pronounced: ray-NOSE) disease, a condition affecting small arteries supplying blood to your skin. People with Reynaud’s react strongly to the cold; their arteries shrink and become narrower, limiting blood flow, and causing their skin to whiten or become blue from lack of blood. Even holding a glass of iced drink can cause this effect. Reynaud’s can occur on its own, for no reason. It can also arise from an underlying cause, such as an injury, certain medications, or a condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

First, let’s identify the part of your hand where the carpal tunnel lies. One of the main nerves of your hand, the median nerve, provides feeling in your thumb, index finger, middle finger and ring finger. It also controls the muscle around the base of the thumb. The median nerve is connected to the rest of your body through the carpal tunnel, a passageway in your wrist about an inch wide. Since the carpal tunnel is narrow, any swelling of blood vessels around it will make it even narrower. And if the median nerve is squeezed or compressed by blood vessels, the pressure causes the pain, weakness and numbness in fingers recognized as carpal tunnel syndrome.

How Are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Reynaud’s Disease Connected?

Both conditions involve a narrowing of blood vessels. When someone has carpal tunnel syndrome, the vessels in their hands are narrowed, and they’re more susceptible to the symptoms of Reynaud’s. These symptoms include cold fingers, color changes to their hand’s skin in response to cold or stress, and a numb, prickly, or stinging pain when their hands warm up or stress is relieved.

Six Signs of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Wrist pain and tingling in our fingers is what we think of when we think of carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s why it may be surprising to learn that the cold and blue fingers of Reynaud’s disease are a symptom too. Here are other surprising symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome:

  1. Waking up with a sore or numb hand during the night, or a feeling that you need to shake out your hand. This may be caused by a sleeping position where the wrists are flexed, leading to burning, tingling, or itching sensations.
  2. Losing your grip on something in your hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome can affect the sensitivity of your fingers, making it feel like you can’t hold on to something. It happens most often when holding a bag, such as a bag of groceries.
  3. Less dexterity when it comes to fine motor movements like buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces.
  4. Elbow pain. It’s usually the thumb, wrist and fingers that hurt, so elbow pain can be overlooked. However, the muscle and nerve connections through our arm mean that our elbow, shoulder and even our neck may be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome.
  5. Feeling that your fingers are swollen, even if they don’t look like they are. There’s a visually undetectable puffiness that’s normal when you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
  6. Using your fingers and hands hurts. Using a computer keyboard or mouse, driving or gardening, reading a book — any time you’re using your hands or holding on to something for an extended time with your wrist bent, there’s pain. There’s no evidence that too much typing on a computer keyboard causes carpal tunnel syndrome, but this type of overuse can cause swelling and tendonitis in your wrist, which in turn compresses the median nerve.

How to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome gets worse over time. If you think your symptoms are a result of carpal tunnel syndrome, seek help right away to avoid permanent damage to your nerves and lifelong symptoms of burning and weakness. When the condition is treated early, you can slow down and even stop the progression of this disease.

Depending on your case, nonsurgical intervention such as pain medication, injections, or wearing a splint or brace while you sleep can lessen the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Some people find acupuncture, yoga, or chiropractic adjustments helpful in alleviating their symptoms.

If pressure on the median nerve continues, your physician may recommend surgery to prevent nerve damage and worsening symptoms. This is usually done on an outpatient basis under anesthetic. Your surgeon may make simple incisions or use endoscopic surgery to make more precise corrections.

Most people recover within 2 to 3 months after surgery, but how fast you recover depends on how severe your condition was before surgery, and if you have another condition in your hand that causes pain and stiffness, such as arthritis or tendonitis. Physical therapy will encourage you to move your fingers to reduce swelling and stiffness and return your grip and pinch strength more quickly.

Meet the Experts at King’s Daughters’ Health

If you suspect you have carpal tunnel syndrome, ask to speak to one of our orthopedic specialists at King’s Daughters’ Health. Our team provides a full range of state-of-the-art diagnostic, surgical and rehabilitation services, partnering with trusted therapy professionals at King’s Daughters’ Health for post-surgery physical therapy. You can be assured of the best possible outcome and fast relief from carpal tunnel syndrome with our professional orthopedic care for all ages.

Subscribe to This Week in Health to get the latest health news delivered to your inbox.