- Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a disorder that causes pain and weakness in the hand and wrist. CTS develops from problems in the nerves of the hands -- not the muscles, as some people believe.
- It is not completely known how the process leading to carpal tunnel syndrome actually evolves, and how nerve conduction (the transmission of the nerve signal) through the wrist changes.
- In general, carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the tissues around the median nerve of the hand swell and press on the nerve.
- Early in the disorder, the process is reversible. Over time, however, the insulation on the nerves may wear away, and permanent nerve damage may develop.
- CTS is associated with a family history of the disorder.
- Many studies indicate that women have a significantly higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome than men do.
- Older people are at higher risk than younger adults.
- Workers who use their hands and wrists repetitively are at risk for CTS.
- It is critical to begin treating early phases of carpal tunnel syndrome before the damage progresses.
- A conservative approach to CTS, which may include corticosteroid injections and splinting, is the first step in treating this disorder.
- Surgery is usually an effective treatment choice for people with the more classic signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome who fail conservative treatment.
- The less invasive "mini-open" surgical approach may reduce recovery time, pain, and chance of recurrence compared to the open approach.
Review Date: 02/17/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.