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Carpal tunnel syndrome

Overview of carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve condition that affects the fingers, hands, wrists, and forearms.

Carpal tunnel often results in wrist pain caused by repetitive, fine motor activities, such as typing on a keyboard or playing a musical instrument.


Signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often include:

  • Pain, or the sensation of burning in your fingers, hand, wrist, and forearm that can radiate upwards into your shoulder. This pain often worsens when holding an object like a cell phone, book, or pen for extended periods of time.
  • Difficulty performing fine motor movements (like writing with a pen, buttoning a shirt, using a keyboard, or holding a cup).
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness in your hand and wrist, especially in your thumb and first three fingers.
  • Dropping things frequently .
  • Waking up with sore wrists.
  • Pain that gets better with shaking or moving your hands.
  • In severe cases, atrophied (smaller) muscles at the base of the thumb.

Carpal tunnel symptoms often come on gradually and get worse over time, and may come and go in the early, mild stages.

If you have any of these symptoms in your wrist, Dignity Health offers the latest diagnostic tests, noninvasive therapies, and minimally invasive procedures. Find a Doctor to get relief.


Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve that runs from your forearm to your hand becomes trapped or compressed. This nerve (the median nerve) runs through a narrow passageway, called the carpal tunnel, in your wrist.

The carpal tunnel is surrounded by bones on one side and a strong tendon on the lower (palm) side of your wrist. Normally, tissue called the synovium lines the tendon and helps lubricate it, which makes it easy to move your fingers smoothly.

Repetitive use of your hand, wrist, and forearm can cause inflammation in the synovium lining of the carpal tunnel area. This makes the carpal tunnel narrower and eventually puts pressure on the median nerve. It can result in pain, discomfort, and limited range of motion in your wrist.

Risk factors

Carpal tunnel is typically the result of swelling in the wrist caused by overuse, injury, or other conditions that increase inflammation throughout the body.

Some risk factors for carpal tunnel are:

  • Occupations that require extensive handwriting, assembly line work, or other repetitive tasks with the hands and arms, such as typing or using vibrating tools like construction and manufacturing equipment
  • Hobbies such as playing music, that require repetitive motion
  • Smoking
  • Family history of carpal tunnel syndrome (some people inherit genes which make them more likely to have a narrow carpal tunnel susceptible to irritation)
  • A diet high in salt, sugar, and other foods that increase inflammation
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Thyroid disfunction
  • Kidney disorders
  • Pregnancy-related fluid retention
  • Previous wrist injuries such as a broken wrist
  • Female gender
  • Age between 30 and 60


Once carpal tunnel symptoms begin, it can be challenging to keep them from recurring or worsening since so many activities require use of the hands and wrists. Therefore, identifying the symptoms early and taking steps to change your behavior or working habits is the best way to prevent more severe inflammation.

Methods to reduce carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms and prevent them from worsening include:

  • Taking breaks during activity to rest and stretch your hands
  • Strengthening the muscles in your hands and arms to support your wrists
  • Making sure you have proper ergonomic setup when typing or doing other repetitive tasks
  • Sleeping with your hands straight to avoid straining your wrists
  • Using a supporting brace to prevent excessive movement, or during activities that cause pain
  • Reducing or limiting any activities that worsen your symptoms
  • Monitoring any other underlying conditions you have that could exacerbate carpal tunnel syndrome (such as arthritis or autoimmune disease)
  • Avoiding activities that require repeatedly flexing and straightening your wrists
  • Reducing inflammation with over-the-counter medication, as recommended by your doctor
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a diet low in foods that cause inflammation, like salt and sugar

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.