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What is the Median Nerve?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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The median nerve is the nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel of the wrist and connects with the thumb and all fingers of the hand, with the exception of the little finger. This nerve originates with the cervical spine and is routed through the arm and forearm. The nerve gathers in compressed form to run through the narrow carpal tunnel and to the fingers. In addition to controlling sensation in the hand, it is also important to the general nerve function of the upper portion of the arm.

In relation to the hand, the median nerve controls all sensation and nerve function on the palm side of the thumb. The nerve also manages the process of sensation for the index and middle fingers, and half of the ring finger. For these three fingers and the thumb, the nerve also provide sensation for the nail bed on each appendage.

An injury to this nerve can occur in several different ways. Trauma at some point above the elbow will, in turn, inhibit the function of the lower limb, including the fingers of the hand. When there is compression or entrapment at some point in the forearm, this leads to a deadening effect commonly known as pronator teres syndrome.

One of the most common examples of median nerve damage is known as carpal tunnel syndrome. This disorder will develop when there is an unusual amount of compression in the carpal tunnel of the wrist. This leads to tingling and possible a complete loss of sensation in the thumb and first three fingers. At the same time, some people experience a great deal of pain when attempting to move the wrist. Depending on the severity of the compression, surgery may be required to correct the problem.

Other factors can create situations where the nerve is compressed or squeezed, effectively limiting the function. Inflammation of muscles due to infection or trauma can interfere with the proper function of the nerve. Surgery on the arm may also temporarily affect nerve function, causing various points along the arm or hand to have a tingling sensation or have no sensation at all. Normally, as the body recovers from the surgery or inflammation, normal sensation will return. Tests can be used to determine the degree of damage sustained by the median nerve at any point between the cervical spine and the point of termination in the fingers of the hand.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon331357 — On Apr 22, 2013

I had a steroid injection incorrectly administered for carpal tunnel syndrome. It was injected into the median nerve, was the most excruciating pain and as a consequence has caused loss of use of thumb and index finger along with constant tingling and pain.

By anon172730 — On May 04, 2011

I have median nerve compression as a result of a heart line inserted into the lower forearm during liver transplant surgery. Sure hope it goes away soon as it is very painful and hard to do normal things with one hand.

By pharmchick78 — On Sep 07, 2010

Although carpal tunnel syndrome (a.k.a. median nerve neuritis) is of the main causes of median nerve symptoms, there are a few other cause.

For example, problems with the connection of the median nerve to the brachial plexus can also cause hand pain. (This is where the median nerve meets the muscles, just fyi).

Finally, though most associate the median nerve with hand pain, the median nerve and the thumb are also connected, so people should not ignore symptoms stemming from their thumbs, even if it seems like nothing to worry about. Better to be safe than sorry.

By rallenwriter — On Sep 07, 2010

My aunt once had median nerve numbness from entrapment -- apparently something caused her carpal tunnel to swell, squeezing her median nerve. The pain was unreal, according to her -- made me never want to go through any kind of median nerve dysfunction!

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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