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May 2021

Just Passing Pain? Or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?


With carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), your hand and wrist tingle or go numb from pressure on the median nerve that runs through a narrow passage from your forearm into your hand. This passage tends to be smaller in women than it is in men. This may be one reason why women are 3 times more likely to develop CTS than men.

In addition to numbness, CTS may weaken or cause pain in your hand or wrist. Some people also have pain or tingling that travels up their arm. Symptoms often start during the night, but eventually can occur during the day, too.

Risk factors

CTS is usually caused by a number of factors that result in more total pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel. CTS appears to be common in those performing assembly line work such as manufacturing, sewing, and meatpacking. But CTS also can result from changing hormones and retaining fluid during pregnancy or menopause.

Other possible causes of CTS include:

  • Wrist sprains or fractures

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Overweight

  • Diabetes

  • Thyroid problems

Treatment options

Seeking treatment for CTS can help prevent permanent nerve damage. So if you suspect CTS, make time to see your healthcare provider.

Initial treatment typically involves resting your wrist in a splint, primarily at night. Keeping the wrist still and supported in a neutral position helps the nerves and tendons to heal. During the day, limit or avoid doing actions that aggravate CTS. Cold packs, stretching, and certain over-the-counter medicines may also help your symptoms. Your provider may suggest physical therapy to help strengthen you hand and wrist. If these measures don’t help, you may benefit from corticosteroids or other types of medicine—injected directly into your wrist or taken by mouth.

When symptoms are severe or don’t respond to other treatments after at least 6 months, open carpal tunnel release surgery may offer relief. During this common outpatient procedure, local anesthesia is administered before a surgeon cuts the band of tissue around the wrist to reduce nerve pressure.

Another surgical option is endoscopic surgery, which allows for smaller incisions. It offers the possibility of faster recovery and less discomfort than traditional open surgery. Talk with your provider about the benefits and risks of each procedure.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2021
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