Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve disorder of the hand, caused by compression of the median nerve. The median nerve gets squeezed inside a narrow passage in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. This nerve provides feeling to the thumb, index and middle fingers and half of the ring finger.

The narrowing may be caused by:

  • Swelling of tissue in the carpal tunnel due to injury or fluid changes in your body
  • Hereditary narrow carpal tunnel
  • Tumors (rare)

Listen to Bobby Chhabra, MD, discuss how you can find relief in this podcast about carpal tunnel syndrome.

Are You at Risk?

Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Female gender
  • Advancing age
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Activities with repetitive hand motions:
    • Certain sports
    • Sewing
    • Playing musical instruments
    • Typing
    • Assembly tasks
  • Water retention from:
    • Heart failure
    • Kidney problems
  • Wrist injury:
    • Burns
    • Broken bones
    • Compression or crush injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Raynaud's disease and phenomenon, which impairs blood flow in the hands
  • Hormone-related conditions:
    • Pregnancy
    • Breastfeeding
    • Menopause
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Cushing's disease
    • Excess growth hormone
  • Medicines:
    • Birth control pills
    • Cortisone pills or shots
    • Some high blood pressure medicines

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes symptoms in one or both hands or wrists. Symptoms may include:

  • Tingling, burning or numbness, especially in your thumb and index or middle fingers
  • Pain or numbness that worsens with:
    • Wrist, hand or finger movement
    • Sleep (symptoms may wake you)
  • Hand stiffness or cramping that gets better after:
    • Shaking your hand
    • Waking up in the morning
  • Weakness or clumsiness of your hand:
    • Loss of grip strength
    • Difficulty making a fist
    • Frequently dropping things
  • Pain that moves up your arm

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor will exam your arms, wrists and hands that include tests of strength, sensation and signs of nerve irritation or damage.

Other tests may include:

  • Electrodiagnostic exam 
  • MRI scan 
  • X-ray 
  • Ultrasound

It's important to correct whatever is causing the carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes making simple changes in your workplace or home may help relieve symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe medications, such as pain relievers or injections of cortisone into the carpal tunnel. 

Wrist Splint

A splint prevents extreme movements of the wrist. It's most effective when worn at night. It can help you avoid waking up with symptoms.


You may need surgery if your symptoms are severe or continue after you try other treatments. The most common procedure is the carpal tunnel release.


You may reduce your chances of getting carpal tunnel syndrome by taking these steps:

  • Minimize repetitive hand movements when possible.
  • Alternate between activities or tasks to reduce the strain on your body.
  • When using your wrists, keep them straight. Let your arms and shoulders share the stress.
  • Use your whole hand or both hands to pick up an item.
  • Avoid holding an object the same way for a long time.
  • If you work in an office, adjust your desk, chair and keyboard so you are in the best possible position.
  • Take breaks at least every hour to:
    • Rest or shake your hands
    • Massage your palms and backs of your hands
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Cut down on caffeine and smoking, which may reduce blood flow to your hands.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.