You're working at your desk, trying to ignore the tingling or numbness you've had for some time in your hand and wrist. Suddenly, a sharp, piercing pain shoots through the wrist and up your arm. Just a passing cramp? It could be carpal tunnel syndrome.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway of ligament and bones at the base of your hand. It contains nerve and tendons. Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the nerve to be compressed. Symptoms usually start gradually. As they worsen, grasping objects can become difficult.
Often, the cause is having a smaller carpal tunnel than other people do. Other causes include performing assembly line work, wrist injury, or swelling due to certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Women are three times more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome than men.
Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent permanent nerve damage. Your doctor diagnoses carpal tunnel syndrome with a physical exam and special nerve tests. Treatment includes resting your hand, splints, pain and anti-inflammatory medicines, and sometimes surgery.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (American College of Rheumatology)
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) - Short Summary
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) Also in Spanish
Diagnosis and Tests
Treatments and Therapies
- Carpal Tunnel Exercises: Can They Relieve Symptoms? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
- Carpal tunnel repair - slideshow Also in Spanish
- Hand Surgery: Anesthesia (American Society for Surgery of the Hand)
- Joint and Soft Tissue Injections (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Wrist Arthroscopy (American Society for Surgery of the Hand)
- Hand Therapy (American Society for Surgery of the Hand, American Society of Hand Therapists)
- Genetics Home Reference: hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsies (National Library of Medicine)
Videos and Tutorials
- Carpal Tunnel Surgery (OR-Live) - Broward Health Medical Center, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 4/14/2011
- Minimally Invasive Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release (OR-Live) - Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, Greenville, SC, 4/20/2012
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (National Institutes of Health)
Journal ArticlesReferences and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
- American Society for Surgery of the Hand
- Find a Hand Surgeon (American Society for Surgery of the Hand)
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Also in Spanish
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health) - PDF