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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
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What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a compressed nerve in the wrist, which subsequently causes symptoms in the hand. Pressure on the median nerve, which is inside a narrow passage in the wrist called the carpal tunnel, causes the nerve to malfunction. This nerve provides feeling to the thumb, index and middle fingers, and half the ring finger. It also controls several muscles in the hand, the most important of which allows the thumb to touch the little finger. Compression occurs when the tissues in the carpal tunnel swell up.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive strain injury. Although there are many causes for carpal tunnel syndrome, by far the most common is doing repetitive motions as part of your job. Fragmentation of work to the point that one...

Anything that causes irritation, inflammation, fluid retention, or an abnormal growth in or around the carpal tunnel can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, including:

  • Repetitive movements of the hands, wrists, or fingers—especially overactive use of a computer keyboard, certain musical instruments, or hand tools (this is the most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • Use of vibrating equipment or tools
  • A narrow carpal tunnel (due to heredity)
  • Wrist injury
    • Burns
    • Broken bones
    • Compression or crush injuries
    • Arthritis
    • Diabetes
    • Raynaud's disease , which impairs blood flow in the hands
  • Water retention due to:
    • Kidney disease
    • Heart disease
  • Hormone-related conditions, such as:
    • Pregnancy
    • Breastfeeding ...

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes symptoms in one or both hands that, more rarely, may also extend up the arm. Symptoms are caused by compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. This nerve supplies feeling to the thumb, index, middle, and half the ring finger. It also innervates the muscles that move the thumb toward the little finger and move the index finger around in a circle.

Carpal tunnel Symptoms include:

  • Tingling, burning, or numbness, especially in your thumb and index or middle fingers
  • Pain or numbness that worsens with:
  • Wrist, hand, or finger movement
  • Sleep (symptoms may wake you)
  • Hand stiffness or cramping that gets better after:
    • Shaking the hand
    • Waking up in the morning
    • Weakness or clumsiness of your hand


In diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome, the doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and examine your neck, arms, wrists, and hands. The physical exam will include tests of strength, sensation, and signs of nerve irritation or damage. The physical exam may include:

Tinel's Sign—The doctor will tap firmly on your wrist right over the carpal tunnel to see if it sends an electric shock feeling into your hand. You can actually do this test yourself, as well. Tap right over the creases on the inner side of your wrist between the two bones on either side of the base of your palm.

Compression Test—The doctor will bend your wrist down so that your thumb comes as close to your forearm as it will go, and then hold it there for a minute or two to see if it causes...

Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often caused by activity associated with repetitive hand motion on the job. Those most at risk, such as keyboard operators, factory workers, typists, musicians, barbers, and bus drivers, can do much to prevent development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Ergonomic specialists can help you set up your workplace to be as comfortable and efficient as possible.

Lifestyle Changes

You may reduce your chances of getting carpal tunnel syndrome by taking these steps:

  • Minimize repetitive hand movements when possible.
  • Alternate between activities or tasks to reduce the strain on your body.
  • When using your wrists, keep them straight and let your arms and shoulders share the stress.
  • Use your whole hand or both hands to pick up an...

American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)


PO Box 850
Rocklin, CA 95677



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ACPA provides support and information for people with chronic pain, including carpal tunnel syndrome.

American Society for Surgery of the Hand


6300 North River Road, Suite 600
Rosemont, Illinois 60018-4256



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The Association provides information about hand conditions and injuries as...

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