What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are numbness, tingling or feeling like the hand is falling asleep. Additional symptoms would be loss of fine touch sensation and dexterity (coordination and movement). People find they're not able to pick up very small, fine things from a flat surface. Instead, they scoop it up from the flat surface into the other hand. They'll also start to experience weakness in their grip. Often, people will tell us they startle themselves by dropping something they had a good hold on.

Usually, symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome start with a dull pain in the wrist that may gradually become more intense and may spread to the forearms or hands. Other symptoms include numbness, tingling or burning sensations. Symptoms most often affect the thumb, index finger and middle finger of one or both hands. Eventually, hand and wrist muscles may weaken.

Typically, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) begins slowly with feelings of burning, tingling, and numbness in the wrist and hand. The areas most affected are the thumb, index and middle fingers. At first, symptoms may happen more often at night. Many CTS sufferers do not make the connection between a daytime activity that might be causing the CTS and the delayed symptoms. Also, many people sleep with their wrist bent, which may cause more pain and symptoms at night. As CTS gets worse, the tingling may be felt during the daytime too, along with pain moving from the wrist to your arm or down to your fingers. Pain is usually felt more on the palm side of the hand.

Another symptom of CTS is weakness of the hands that gets worse over time. Some people with CTS find it difficult to grasp an object, make a fist, or hold onto something small. The fingers may even feel like they are swollen even though they are not. Over time, this feeling will usually happen more often.

If left untreated, those with CTS can have a loss of feeling in some fingers and permanent weakness of the thumb. Thumb muscles can actually waste away over time. Eventually, CTS sufferers may have trouble telling the difference between hot and cold temperatures by touch.

This answer is based on source information  from the National Women's Health Information Center.

Dr. Rachel Rohde, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

The most common symptoms include pain, numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, long and ring fingers. Night symptoms are common because we often sleep with our wrists curled (or "flexed"), which compresses the nerve more. You might feel symptoms while driving, reading a newspaper or holding a telephone, or during gripping activities. Some people actually start dropping objects or feeling clumsy with their hands.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by pain, weakness, tingling and numbness in the hand—particularly in the palm and thumb, and the index and middle fingers. In more significant cases, the hand may feel cold.

This answer provided for NATA by the Eastern University Athletic Training Education Program.

Dr. David A. Cautilli, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome for most people are generally pain, numbness, tingling, a buzzing type feeling in their fingers. It generally wakes them up at nighttime or bothers them during the day when they’re driving or reading a book.

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Debra Fulghum Bruce PhD
Healthcare Specialist

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include pain and tingling or numbness in the thumb and next three fingers, with the exception of the little finger. You may also feel swelling in your fingers. Sometimes there may be pain that travels from the hand up the arm, possibly to the elbow.

The pain, numbness and tingling usually worsen at night and while driving or holding the telephone. Some claim the symptoms increase when the hand is warm and decrease when it is cool. You may even wake up with your hand(s) asleep and have to shake it to try to regain feeling.

As carpal tunnel syndrome progresses, your hand may become noticeably weaker so that daily activities such as opening a jar or grasping your hairbrush may be difficult. You may drop items easily and think you’re just plain clumsy—when, in fact, the CTS has weakened your grip.

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Dr. Prosper A. Benhaim, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Depending on severity, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness, tingling, waking up at night with tingling, having to shake the hand in the middle of the night to restore sensation to the fingers and frequently dropping items. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are typically worse at night while sleeping, in the morning hours when awakening, when driving a car, talking on the phone, performing repetitive motion or reading a book. People often have pain in their hand, but characteristically it is hard for the person to say exactly where the pain is located. There can be referred pain going toward the forearm, upper arm, shoulder or higher. The presentation of symptoms is rather varied and overlaps other problems in the neck, shoulders, arm and hand. In late stages, there may be weakness of the thumb, with decreased thumb motion. There can be many other associated symptoms, but they are quite varied and can be confusing. Therefore, it is best if the diagnosis is made by a doctor familiar with hand problems, such as a hand surgeon.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.