Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is pressure on a nerve in your wrist. It causes tingling, numbness and pain in your hand and fingers. You can often treat it yourself, but it can take months to get better. It’s more common in women and becomes more likely as you get older.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

The main symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are tingling, numbness and pain in one or both hands. Most cases affect both hands eventually.

These sensations usually develop gradually. They 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:

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome

CTS sometimes clears up by itself in a few months, particularly if you have it because you’re pregnant.

Things that can help include:

Wear a wrist splint

A wrist splint is something you wear on your hand to keep your wrist straight. It helps to relieve pressure on the nerve.

You wear it at night while you sleep. You’ll have to wear a splint for at least four weeks before you start to feel better.

You can buy wrist splints online or from pharmacies. Ask your pharmacist if you need advice.

Stop or cut down on things that may be causing it

Stop or cut down on anything that causes you to bend your wrist or grip hard very often. This can include, for example, using vibrating tools for work or playing an instrument.

Don’t take painkillers

There’s little evidence to say that painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen help with CTS.

Surgery may be required if these treatments fail to help your symptoms. It may also be used if there's a risk of permanent nerve damage.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you're having persistent symptoms of CTS. They can usually diagnose CTS by asking about your symptoms and examining your hand, wrist or arm.

If a wrist splint hasn’t helped (see treating CTS above), your GP might recommend a steroid injection into your wrist. This brings down swelling around the nerve which eases the symptoms of CTS.

An occupational therapist or physiotherapist will be able to advise you about the different types of splint.

Some therapists recommend certain exercises at the wrist which might help prevent the median nerve becoming stuck to nearby tendons. Speak to your GP about referral, if your symptoms are not improving.

Steroid injections aren’t always a cure. CTS can come back after a few months and you may need another injection.If they’re not sure it’s CTS, they may refer you to hospital for tests, such as an ultrasound scan.

Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve. The nerve controls sensation and movement in the hands.

In most cases, it isn't known why the nerve becomes compressed. But, some things do increase the risk of CTS.

This includes:

a family history of CTS

  • pregnancy 
  • injuries to the wrist
  • other health conditions, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
  • strenuous, repetitive work with the hand

 

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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