What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

By  , Expert Content
Jun 29, 2012

In carpal tunnel syndrome, pain is experienced in hand and arm. One of the nerves in the wrist is pinched leading to this condition. The carpal tunnel is a contracted passageway of the wrist which is surrounded by ligaments and bones. It is about as big as the thumb and is present on the palm side of your wrist. The main nerve to the hand, median nerve,  and tendons that bend the fingers pass through this tunnel.

If the nerve is compressed it causes numbness, pain and, eventually, weakness in hand—the characteristic features of carpal tunnel syndrome. There are many factors which contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, including injury to wrist, anatomy of your wrist, certain underlying health problems and possibly, abnormal patterns of hand use.


Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused because of compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. It provides sensation to the palm side of your thumb, index, middle and ring finger (except the little finger). It also controls the muscles around the base of your thumb (motor function). CTS can be caused by irritation of the nerve in the carpal tunnel by anything that crowds, irritates or compresses the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. In many cases, the underlying cause cannot be identified.

Symptoms of CTS

In most people carpal tunnel syndrome starts gradually with a vague ache in the wrist that may extend to the hand or forearm. Some common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are:

  • Tingling or numbness in fingers or hand, which involves the thumb, index, middle or ring fingers, (but the little finger is spared).
  • Pain radiates from the wrist to arm and shoulder, or may even radiate down into palm or fingers. The pain usually increases with forceful or repetitive use.
  • Sense of weakness of hands.
  • Tendency to drop objects.

Treatment of CTS

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated both conservatively and with surgery. Conservative approach of treatment includes wrist splinting, pain relievers NSAIDs (aspirin and ibuprofen) and corticosteroids. These are usually recommended for patients with mild carpal tunnel syndrome. If there is no relief with conservative treatment or the symptoms are severe, surgery may be the best option.


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