Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a squeezing of the median nerve at the wrist. This nerve brings feeling to the thumb, index finger, middle fingers, and half the ring finger.
This problem is caused by pressure in the carpal tunnel. This is the passage that the nerve uses as it goes from the wrist into the hand. The cause of this pressure is not always known. Other times it may be due to:
CTS is more common in women and adults over 50 years of age. Other things that may raise the risk are:
The problem may be in one or both hands or wrists. These issues may get worse over time:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done, looking closely at the arms, wrists, and hands. The doctor may ask about the tasks done at work.
An ultrasound may be done to help confirm the diagnosis. This will use sound waves to measure the nerve area.
It is important to repair what is causing CTS. Making simple changes at work and home may ease problems.
Other options may be:
Care that may help includes:
Medicine may be given to ease pain. Steroids may also be injected into the carpal tunnel to ease swelling.
Some people may need surgery if initial care does not help or symptoms are severe. Carpal tunnel release cuts the transverse carpal ligament and release pressure on the nerve. A splint can help ease pain after surgery.
There are no known methods to lower the chance of CTS.
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Clinical Practice Guideline on the Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. AAOS 2016 Feb PDF.
Carpal tunnel syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/carpal-tunnel-syndrome. Updated June 24, 2019. Accessed September 23, 2019.
Carpal tunnel syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet. Updated August 13, 2019. Accessed September 23, 2019.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Last Updated: 8/14/2020
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