Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(8):965-966

See related article on carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (KAR-pal TUN-el SIN-drome) is a common, painful disorder of the wrist and hand. It happens when the median nerve, which runs through the wrist, gets squeezed under a band of tissue called a ligament. This causes pain and other symptoms along the nerve (see drawing).

What causes it?

Anything that increases pressure on the median nerve can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes pregnancy and health conditions like arthritis and diabetes can increase the pressure. People who use their hands and wrists repeatedly in the same way (for example, typists, carpenters, and cashiers) are more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome.

What are the symptoms?

Carpal tunnel syndrome may cause pain, numbness, or tingling in your wrist and hand, mostly in the middle finger, index finger, and thumb. The symptoms are usually worse at night and when you use your wrists and hands a lot. You may notice that over time your grip gets weaker and you tend to drop heavy objects.

How is it diagnosed?

Talk to your doctor if you are having these symptoms. He or she will ask questions about the ways you use your hands and about specific symptoms in each part of your hand and wrist. He or she may also test how your nerves and muscles respond to electrical stimulation.

How is it treated?

If you have a disease or condition that is causing carpal tunnel syndrome, treatment may improve your symptoms. Not repeating the same hand activities over and over, doing hand and wrist exercises, and wearing a wrist splint may also help. Your doctor may prescribe medicine to reduce wrist swelling or recommend a shot into your wrist. If these treatments don't help, surgery may be an option.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

AAFP's Patient Education Resource

American College of Rheumatology

National Institutes of Health

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in Pubmed

Copyright © 2011 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.