How do I know if I have carpal tunnel syndrome? What treatment options are available?

By Sergio Rodriguez, MD
DHR Health Hand and Wrist Institute

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the most common compressive neuropathy (pinched nerve) in the human body. It is caused by pressure of the inflamed soft tissue against the median nerve within the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel is located in our wrists and is where the tendons, along with the median nerve, pass through to reach the hand.

CTS symptoms include numbness and tingling in the hand. Typically, the thumb, index finger, long finger, and part of the ring finger become numb. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also present as pain or a burning sensation in the hand. Symptoms are frequently more noticeable after lying down and very often cause patients to awaken from sleep to shake their hands and relieve the tingling. The pain caused by the pinched nerve is sometimes very severe, not allowing them to sleep through the night.

Sometimes people feel clumsy, frequently dropping objects. The reason for dropping the objects is because they lose the ability to feel the object they are holding. Carpal tunnel syndrome makes small, simple tasks, such as picking up a coin or buttoning a shirt, difficult. In advanced cases, weakness and even muscle wasting can develop in the hand.

The most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive motions or activities involving the hands. Traditionally, this was thought to only affect the people who used typewriters day in and day out; however, we now have realized that any repeated manual activity can predispose a person to developing CTS. Women are affected more often than men. It is also more common in diabetic patients, obese patients, patients with hypothyroidism, pregnant women, patients with arthritis, and patients with renal failure.

The diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is typically made through a physical exam by your doctor. Sometimes a nerve study (electromyogram and nerve conduction velocity) may be necessary. There are other problems that can manifest themselves with pain, numbness, or weakness of the hands. That is why it is important to always be evaluated by a physician.

Treatment depends on the severity of the disease. Typically, non-operative management is initiated. This includes night splints, activity modifications, and hand exercises. If these fail to improve the symptoms, a corticosteroid injection into the wrist may be performed.

If conservative treatment fails, surgery is usually recommended. There are two forms of surgery–the traditional open form and the more modern endoscopic technique. Long-term results are the same, regardless of the type of surgery performed; however, the endoscopic carpal tunnel release has the advantage of being less aggressive on the body and allows for a quicker recovery from surgery.

DHR Health Hand and Wrist Institute can help guide you through the process of getting an initial screening to getting relief for your carpal tunnel. If you or your loved one would like more information or to set up a consultation, please call DHR Health Hand and Wrist Institute at (956) 362-6730 or visit