Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) can usually be diagnosed by your GP, who will examine your hand and wrist and ask you about your symptoms.

Your GP will assess your ability to use your hand, wrist or arm, and look for signs of weakness in the muscles surrounding your thumb.

Physical tests

Your doctor may tap your wrist lightly to see if you feel tingling or numbness in your fingers, although this test isn't reliable.

Flexing your wrist or holding it elevated above your head for a minute are other commonly performed simple tests for CTS. This should induce the same pain, numbness or tingling in your hand if you have the condition.

Any of these sensations may be the result of your median nerve being compressed. A positive result on one of these tests suggests you may have CTS, but doesn't prove it.

Further testing

Further testing for diagnosis is usually only required if your GP is uncertain and wants to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms.

Blood tests

A blood test can be used if the doctor suspects an underlying condition relating to CTS, such as:

Nerve conduction study

A nerve conduction study is a test that measures how fast signals are transmitted through your nerves.

During the test, electrodes are placed on your hand and wrist, and a small electrical current is used to stimulate the nerves in the finger, wrist and sometimes the elbow.

The results from the test indicate how much damage there is to your nerves.  

Nerve conduction studies are usually performed in hospital and take about 10 minutes. They're generally not very painful, but may be uncomfortable.

Imaging studies

The main imaging method used in CTS is an ultrasound scan, which uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your body.

This method can be used to see the nerve itself, and can often add further useful information about CTS.

Page last reviewed: 06/10/2016

Next review due: 06/10/2019