Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - What it is

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is caused by nerve compression at the wrist when it passes through the carpal tunnel on the palm side of the wrist (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Nerve compression at the carpal tunnel

The carpal tunnel is a passageway for nerves and tendons that control finger sensations and movements respectively.

Swelling or thickening of structures in or around the carpal tunnel may press on the median nerve, leading to tingling, numbness, pain and weakness, usually most prominent over the first three fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the most common peripheral nerve entrapment syndrome, and is characterized by numbness and tingling of the radial 3½ digits. It is found in one percent of the general population and increased incidence is noted in women, the elderly and pregnant patients. 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Symptoms

CTS symptoms often develop gradually and is more severe in the dominant hand.

The first symptoms include tingling or numbness of the thumb, index and middle fingers which may come and go initially. You may also experience weakness in hand grip with the tendency to drop objects. It may first be noticed
when holding objects or driving.

Commonly, it improves with shaking of the affected hand. Occasionally, there may be pain or an abnormal feeling that the hand "is swollen”.

Over time, the condition may worsen and result in persistent numbness, permanent weakness and wasting of the thumb muscles.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - How to prevent?

  • Minimise repetitive wrist movement for prolonged periods by taking frequent breaks
  • Avoid bending the wrist excessively up or down. A relaxed middle position is best
  • Adopt a good posture and adjust your keyboard/computer mouse to avoid straining your wrist

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Causes and Risk Factors

  • Repetitive wrist movement e.g. working with vibrating tools, prolonged typing or computer use
  • Pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders, fluid retention, kidney failure or wrist injury
  • Pregnancy
  • Female
  • People who are born with narrow carpal tunnels

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Diagnosis

Nerve conduction study is frequently done to confirm the diagnosis. It usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes and does not require anaesthesia. During the test, small and safe doses of electric currents are delivered to stimulate the nerves in order to assess their function.

A peripheral nerve ultrasound may also be done to confirm nerve compression.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Treatments

​Mild to moderate cases of CTS may be managed in various ways:

  • Wear a brace to keep the wrist in a neutral position especially during sleep or inactivity
  • Avoid repetitive movements or overbending of the hand and wrist for prolonged periods e.g. continuous typing, handphone usage
  • Lose excess weight
  • Steroid injection

In moderate or advanced stages where there is significant nerve damage, surgery may be advised to relieve symptoms and prevent further damage. The outcome for surgery is generally good for most patients.

Conservative treatments such as night splints and activity modifications are widely accepted first-line therapies for mild CTS. Nerve gliding exercises may be helpful for mild to moderate symptoms. Avoidance of carrying heavy loads and repetitive hand motions are important. 

Surgical Options  

Surgical release of the carpal tunnel is indicated when conservative measures have not managed to relieve the patient’s symptoms or when the compression is severe enough. Open carpal tunnel release (OCTR) and endoscopic carpal tunnel releases (ECTR) are such options. 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Preparing for surgery

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Post-surgery care

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Other Information

​Download the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome brochure

The information provided is not intended as medical advice. Terms of use. Information provided by SingHealth

Discover articles,videos, and guides afrom Singhealth's resources across the web. These information are collated, making healthy living much easier for everyone.