Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Pain, weakness and a tingling feeling in your hand and wrist could be carpal tunnel syndrome. Learn its causes, symptoms and treatments.

Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the arms, wrists and hands. It occurs when a nerve is squeezed or pinched at the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway on the inner side of the wrist. The wrist and hand may become painful, weak or numb. These sensations may travel up the arm. The syndrome usually affects only adults. Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Persons with diabetes or other metabolic disorders are also at greater risk. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve. This nerve runs from your forearm through a narrow passageway in your wrist (the carpal tunnel) to your hand. Although it can be hard to pinpoint a specific cause of your carpal tunnel syndrome, it often happens because the carpal tunnel narrows for some reason. 
•    Injuries and trauma to your wrist, like a sprain or break, can trigger the condition. 
•    Repetitive hand motions may be involved in triggering carpal tunnel syndrome. 
•    Some inflammatory diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, can also contribute.
•    Obesity can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome.



Carpal tunnel syndrome develops over time. Hands and fingers may

  • Burn.
  • Tingle.
  • Feel numb.
  • Feel swollen (even if they are not actually swollen).

Without treatment, burning and tingling may travel up the arm. Grip strength may be reduced and sensation in the fingertips lost. 


People often ignore the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome for too long. This can lead to permanent damage to the median nerve. It is important to see a doctor if you have pain and tingling in your hand. Your doctor will ask you questions and may conduct one or more of the following tests to determine if you have carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Phalen test for wrist flexibility.
  • Tinel test to assess feeling in the hands and fingers. 
  • X-rays to help identify fractures or arthritis
  • Lab tests to look for inflammation
  • Electromyogram (EMG) to test muscle function
  • Nerve conduction test  


Identifying carpal tunnel early may allow resolution of symptoms through self-care (see below). Your doctor may also prescribe the following treatments to go along with self-care: 

  • Splint(s) to immobilize the wrist
  • Oral medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), to ease pain and reduce inflammation
  • Corticosteroid injection into the carpal tunnel to reduce inflammation
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Physical therapy for specific exercise to strengthen and stretch the wrist and hand
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga

If symptoms last for more than six months, surgery may be needed. An outpatient procedure can reduce pressure around the median nerve. 

Learn more about the medications used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome at arthritis drug guide.


Along with doctor-prescribed treatments, these self-care tips can help relieve carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Apply ice packs to reduce swelling
  • Rotate your wrists and stretch your fingers frequently
  • Take short breaks when doing repetitive hand movements
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid sleeping on your hands

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