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Carpal tunnel release surgery is generally recommended if symptoms last for six months.*
*Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Overview

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a painful condition that results from compression of the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm at the wrist. Wrist and/or hand discomfort typically begins gradually and is not related to a specific injury. Women are three times more likely to develop CTS than men, possibly because the carpal tunnel itself is smaller.

The passageway through which the nerve runs is known as the carpal tunnel. The median nerve provides feeling to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (not the little finger). And it provides nerve signals to move the muscles around the base of the thumb.

A number of factors contribute to CTS, but there is no single cause. Rather, experts point to a combination of factors and conditions. There are conflicting reports and research about the role of workplace factors, like repetitive motion and computer use, in developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

WellStar neurologists are expert in diagnosing and treating carpal tunnel syndrome. If you are concerned about symptoms, make an appointment to learn more about your condition and what you can do to feel better.


Pressure on the median nerve traveling through the carpal tunnel causes swelling of the tissues surrounding the tendons in the wrist. The swelling narrows the space inside the carpal tunnel and, over time, crowds the nerve. Symptoms can worsen over time and with excessive use of the wrist.

  • Tingling or numbness. The tingling can affect the fingers or hand, especially the thumb, index, middle or ring fingers—not the little finger. The sensation often comes while holding a steering wheel, phone or newspaper. Often the feeling is strong enough to wake you from sleep. As the disorder worsens the numbness may become permanent.
  • Weakness. CTS causes numbness in the hand or weakness of the thumb’s pinching muscles, which are controlled by the median nerve. As a result you may drop objects.
  • Electric shock like feeling. This typically affects the thumb, index and middle finger.
  • Unusual sensations and pain. The pain can travel up the arm toward the shoulder.

Risk Factors

Carpal tunnel syndrome is typically a combination of factors rather than a problem with the median nerve itself. The issue may be hereditary—some people are born with a narrower carpal tunnel than others. Other factors:

  • Trauma or injury to the wrist, such as a sprain or fracture, that cause swelling
  • Overactive the pituitary gland
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Joint or bone disease such as arthritis
  • Mechanical problem with the wrist
  • Certain repetitive activities or motions
  • Repeated use of vibrating hand tools
  • Fluid retention related to pregnancy or menopause
  • Being female
  • Having diabetes

Despite considerable media attention, there is no compelling evidence that links carpal tunnel syndrome to repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and wrist during work or leisure activities.