Carpal tunnel syndrome 


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.

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. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a relatively common condition that causes pain, numbness and a tingling sensation 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, middle finger and half of the ring 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.

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the nerve 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. It 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. However, in some women, symptoms can continue for over a year and require treatment.

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

In more severe cases of CTS, surgery is usually required to reduce the pressure on the median nerve.

Read more about treating carpal tunnel syndrome.

Surgery relieves the symptoms of CTS instantly, but it can take a while to recover.

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.

Read more about recovering from carpal tunnel surgery.

Last reviewed: 19/09/2012

Next review due: 19/09/2014


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Comments are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

ryan_henderson said on 29 November 2012


Guitar playing (and many other activities) can cause Carpal Tunnel. You might look at this organisation for more information on surgery and post-op information.

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Colrain Sborough said on 28 November 2012

1 Is guitar playing a possible cause of Carpal Tunnel syndrome?
2 Does the operation create post-operative difficulty for guitar player?

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