Introduction 

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a relatively common condition that causes a tingling sensation, numbness and sometimes pain in the hand and fingers.

Usually, these sensations develop gradually and start off being worse during the night. They tend to affect the thumb, index finger and middle finger.

Other symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • thumb weakness
  • a dull ache in the hand or arm

Read more about the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of one of the nerves that controls sensation and movement in the hands (median nerve).

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage in your wrist made up of small bones and a tough band of tissue that acts as a pulley for the tendons that bend the fingers.

It isn't known why the median nerve becomes compressed in most cases, although certain things are thought to increase the risk of CTS developing, such as:

  • a family history of CTS
  • pregnancy up to about 50% of pregnant women develop CTS
  • injuries to the wrist
  • other health conditions, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
  • strenuous, repetitive work with the hand

Read more about the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome

In some cases CTS will disappear without treatment, or simple self-care measures will reduce the symptoms.

CTS in pregnant women often gets better within three months of the baby being born, although it may need treatment. In some women, symptoms can continue for more than a year.

Non-surgical treatments, such as wrist splints and corticosteroid injections, are used to treat mild or moderate symptoms.

Surgery may be required if non-surgical treatments fails to relieve the symptoms. It may also be used if there is a risk of permanent nerve damage.

Read more about treating carpal tunnel syndrome.

Surgery relieves the symptoms of mild CTS immediately. But in those with severe nerve damage, it can take a while to recover or there may not be any improvement.

Depending on which hand was operated on and what your job involves, you will usually be able to return to work within a few weeks of surgery.




Carpal tunnel syndrome animation

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that causes pain, numbness and a burning or tingling sensation in the hand and fingers. Watch this animation and find out what the carpal tunnel is and what causes CTS.

Media last reviewed: 08/12/2014

Next review due: 08/12/2016

Who is affected?

CTS is more common in women than men. 

In the UK, about three in 100 men and five in 100 women experience CTS is their lifetime.

Although CTS becomes more common with age, it can affect people of all ages. 

Page last reviewed: 18/09/2014

Next review due: 18/09/2016