NINDS Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Information Page

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Information

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when tendons in the wrist become inflammed after being aggravated. A tunnel of bones and ligaments in the wrist narrows, pinching nerves that reach the fingers and the muscle at the base of the thumb. The first symptoms usually appear at night. Symptoms range from a burning, tingling numbness in the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers, to difficulty gripping or making a fist.

Is there any treatment?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is treated by immobilizing the wrist in a splint to minimize or prevent pressure on the nerves. If that fails, patients are sometimes given anti-inflammatory drugs or injections of cortisone in the wrist to reduce the swelling. There is also a surgical procedure in which doctors can open the wrist and cut the ligament at the bottom of the wrist to relieve the pressure. However, only a small percentage of patients require surgery.

What is the prognosis?
Approximately 1 percent of individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome develop permanent injury. The majority recover completely and can avoid reinjury by changing the way they do repetitive movements, the frequency with which they do the movements, and the amount of time they rest between periods when they perform the movements.

What research is being done?
Much of the on-going research on carpal tunnel syndrome is aimed at prevention and rehabilitation. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) funds research on carpal tunnel syndrome.

Selected references

Hudson, A, et. al.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Surgical Neurology, 47; 105-114 (1997).

Kasdan, ML, Lane, C, Merritt, WH, and Nathan, PA.
Carpal tunnel syndrome: management techniques. Patient Care, 111-138 (April 1993).

Medalie, JH.
Joint injections: some very good recommendations. Modern Medicine, 56; 3 (June 1988).

Testing for carpal tunnel syndrome. The Lancet, 338:8762; 479-480 (August 1991).

Wilke, WS, and Tuggle, CJ.
Optimal techniques for intra-articular and periarticular joint injections. Modern Medicine, 56; 58-72 (June 1988)


American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
P.O. Box 850
Rocklin CA 95677-0850
Tel: 916-632-0922
Fax: 916-632-3208

Association for Repetitive Motion Syndromes (ARMS)
P.O. Box 471973
Aurora CO 80047-1973
Tel: 303-369-0803

National Chronic Pain Outreach Association (NCPOA)
P.O. Box 274
Millboro VA 24460
Tel: 540-862-9437
Fax: 540-862-9485

NIAMS/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Bldg. 31, Rm. 4C05
Bethesda MD 20892-2350
Tel: 877-226-4267 301-496-8188

This fact sheet is in the public domain. You may copy it.

Provided by:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892