Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which compression of a nerve in the wrist—the median nerve—produces tingling, numbness, weakness, and pain in the hand and fingers. Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome can include physical therapy, exercises, icing, splints, pain medication, and cortisone injections. Severe symptoms may require surgery.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

      Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is pinched inside the wrist’s narrow carpal tunnel. There is usually no single cause that can be found for the condition. Instead, multiple risk factors often contribute, such as the structure of your wrist, injury, and the presence of conditions that cause inflammation and swelling. Stress due to repetitive motion is also a risk factor.

    • What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

      With carpal tunnel syndrome, you may feel pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in your hand or fingers that prevents you from performing everyday activities, such as typing on a computer or writing. Some people also report a sensation like an electric shock. Symptoms develop gradually and worsen over time. Typically, these altered sensations correspond to the area the median nerve serves.

    • Which nerve is compressed in carpal tunnel syndrome?

      The median nerve, which is compressed in carpal tunnel syndrome, passes through your wrist to your palm, thumb, and each of your fingers except the pinky. The wrist’s carpal tunnel contains several tendons and vascular structures along with the median nerve.

    • How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?

      Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome usually begins with conservative treatments, such as using a wrist splint. Lifestyle changes and wrist stretches and exercises can also help. Corticosteroid injections or NSAIDs may be used to help reduce inflammation. If this does not provide relief or if your symptoms are severe, carpal tunnel release surgery is an option.

    • What will happen if carpal tunnel syndrome is not treated?

      Over time, unaddressed carpal tunnel syndrome may cause you to lose grip strength or feeling in your fingers or hand. Eventually, your nerves may lose the ability to maintain a sense of where your hand is in space (known as proprioception1) and loss of strength, leading to clumsiness or inability to hold things. In the most severe cases, there is a risk of muscle atrophy and permanent nerve damage.

    Key Terms

    A Closer Look at Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

    Explore an interactive model that shows an up-close view of the carpal tunnel, and how compression of the median nerve can cause symptoms throughout the hand.

    Page Sources
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    1. Tapadia M, Mozaffar T, Gupta R. Compressive neuropathies of the upper extremity: update on pathophysiology, classification, and electrodiagnostic findings. J Hand Surg Am. 2010;35(4):668-77. doi:10.1016/j.jhsa.2010.01.007

    2. Cleveland Clinic. Carpal tunnel syndrome: diagnosis and tests. Updated October 22, 2019.

    Additional Reading