What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an inflammation of the tendons in the carpal tunnel of the wrist.

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.

Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common, painful disorder caused by compression of the median nerve, which passes between the bones and ligaments of the wrist.

Compression of the median nerve in the wrist causes weakness; pain when gripping; and burning, tingling or aching that may radiate to the forearm and shoulder. Symptoms may be occasional or constant.

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Administration Specialist

As our bellies grow, many of us compensate or the change in our center of gravity by arching our backs a bit. This change in posture, as well as the loosened joints caused by pregnancy hormones and the swelling caused by fluid shifts, may lead to backache and carpal tunnel syndrome—painful or numb wrists, hands and fingers. For some women, carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy is very uncomfortable and interferes with everyday activities.

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Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is pressure on the nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel—a narrow passageway made up of ligament and bone that connects the forearm to the hand. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and fingers.

Some folks are born with a cramped tunnel and if they get any swelling in the area it can affect the nerve. CTS is also related to diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause, obesity, a cyst or tumor in the canal or overactivity of the pituitary gland.

Dr. Rachel Rohde, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is one of the most common issues seen by hand surgeons. The median nerve runs through your forearm, wrist and hand and supplies sensation to the thumb, index finger, long finger and half of the ring finger. It also is responsible for innervating most muscles that control the thumb. At the level of the wrist, it runs through the "carpal canal" or "carpal tunnel" with all nine tendons that allow you to bend your fingers. If there is swelling in this area or otherwise pressure on the nerve, you might feel numbness, tingling or even pain in your fingers, hand and sometimes forearm.

Dr. Prosper A. Benhaim, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that causes a tingling sensation, burning feeling, numbness and discomfort in the wrist and hand and fingers. The numbness commonly affects the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. It occurs when the median nerve at the base of the palm becomes pinched or compressed as it passes through a tunnel between the lower forearm and palm of the hand. The structure that is compressing the nerve is called the transverse carpal ligament. 

Debra Fulghum Bruce PhD
Healthcare Specialist

In carpal tunnel syndrome, the median nerve that travels down the arm into the hand is compressed as it passes through a narrow path or tunnel at the wrist. Overuse, repetitive stress (such as computer usage or playing a musical instrument), arthritis, injury and other problems can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. You might feel numbness, tingling or pain in the thumb and next three fingers. The pain and numbness may travel up your arm and awaken you at night, or it may interfere with driving or holding the telephone receiver.

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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)

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)
Watch as I discuss carpal tunnel syndrome with famed game show host Alex Trebek. Learn what causes carpal tunnel issues and simple tips for controlling it in this video.
Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Carpal tunnel syndrome is compression of the median nerve within the carpal tunnel of the wrist. The median nerve is one of the large nerves that supplies sensation and muscle signaling in the forearm, wrist and hand. The median nerve originates from the brachial plexus which is a large collection of nerves around the area of the armpit. The nerve travels down the arm and into the hand through the carpal tunnel at the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a passageway on the palmar side of the wrist for 9 flexor tendons and the median nerve. The floor of the carpal tunnel is the bones of wrist and the roof of the tunnel is the transverse carpal ligament. When pressure increases in the tunnel, pressure is exerted on the median nerve. This can lead to tingling and numbness, mainly in the thumb, index, and middle fingers, as well as muscle weakness in the thumb. If left untreated for a prolonged period, the muscles at the base of the thumb may undergo atrophy.

There are many mechanisms through which one may acquire carpal tunnel syndrome. Some of the more common ways are jobs and activities that require repeated flexion and extension of the fingers and wrists (e.g. typist), prolonged flexed posture of the wrist (e.g. sleeping with wrists bent), as well as pregnancy.

A physician may reach the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome through the history, physical examination and/or upper extremity nerve conduction studies.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome includes hand/wrist cock-up splints, exercises/stretches, anti-inflammatory drugs, injections and/or surgery.

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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.