What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when something—usually bone or swollen tissue—puts pressure on a nerve and causes tingling, numbness or weakness. The carpal tunnel itself is the "tunnel" or passageway that goes down the palm side of the wrist and protects the median nerve (a nerve that controls the thumb and fingers). Ligaments and tendons that connect to the fingers are also found in the carpal tunnel. These tissues can become swollen for a number of reasons, and when they swell, they put pressure on the median nerve. This causes the pain and numbness that's associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel is often associated with repetitive hand motions such as typing.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a progressively painful wrist problem caused by repetitive movement of the wrist. The carpal tunnel is located on the front of the wrist and is formed by the bones of the wrist and the transverse carpal ligament that crosses the wrist. Typically, repetitive wrist flexion or possibly trauma to the front of the wrist will lead to inflammation of the tendons that lie within the carpal tunnel.

Swelling, associated with the inflammation, presses on the median nerve, which is also located in this area. Sensory changes and/or weakness in the hand may occur. CTS may be related to the use of sporting equipment, such as when paddles are worn to improve the stroke in swimming.

(This answer provided for NATA by the Indiana University Athletic Training Education Program)

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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.