Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome 

The main symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) arise from irritation to the median nerve.

The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist and controls some of the movements of the thumb, as well as sensation in the thumb and the next two-and-a-half fingers.

The symptoms of CTS tend to develop gradually and usually start off being worse at night or early in the morning.

The three main symptoms are:

  • tingling
  • numbness
  • pain

These symptoms occur in:

  • the thumb
  • the index finger
  • the middle finger
  • half of the ring finger

However, the tingling, numbness and pain can sometimes extend outside this area.

These symptoms can be present in one or both hands, although most cases affect both hands eventually.

Other symptoms

Other possible symptoms of CTS include:

  • a dull ache and discomfort in the hand, forearm or upper arm
  • a burning, prickling sensation (paraesthesia) in the hand similar to pins and needles
  • dry skin, swelling or changes in the skin colour of the hand
  • becoming less sensitive to touch (hypoaesthesia)
  • weakness and wasting away (atrophy) of the muscles at the base of the thumb

The symptoms of CTS are often worse after using the affected hand. Any repetitive actions of the hand or wrist can aggravate the symptoms, as can keeping your arm or hand in the same position for a prolonged period of time.

In some cases of CTS, you may experience pain that leads from your hand up to your forearm and elbow.

Using your hands

People with CTS often complain of dropping objects a lot.

Your dexterity, which is the ability to use your hands effectively to carry out certain tasks, is often impaired by CTS. You may also find it difficult to use the affected fingers to carry out specific tasks, such as typing or fastening buttons.

If you have hand symptoms and want to know if they might be due to CTS, you can complete an online questionnaire about your symptoms which will tell you how likely it is that CTS is the explanation.


Page last reviewed: 18/09/2014

Next review due: 18/09/2016