Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies

Continue

Navigation

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where a nerve in your wrist is under pressure (compressed). This causes pain, tingling or numbness, mainly in your forearm and hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome is most common in women between 40 and 60, but men can get it too.

Image showing the carpal tunnel and median nerve

Details

  • About What is the carpal tunnel

    The carpal tunnel is a channel in your wrist. The bones of your wrist are arranged in a semi-circle that forms the sides and base of this channel. A tough band of tissue, known as the transverse carpal ligament, forms the roof.

    The tendons that you use to flex your fingers and wrist pass through your carpal tunnel. Your carpal tunnel also surrounds your median nerve, which supplies feeling and controls muscles in your hand and thumb. If this nerve comes under pressure, it can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. 

  • Symptoms Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

    If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you may get the following symptoms.

    • Pain in your hand and wrist. This may spread to your forearm, upper arm and shoulder.
    • Numb hands.
    • A tingling sensation.
    • Weakness. This usually affects movements that involve your thumb, so you may find it difficult to grip things. Over time, your hand muscles can get weaker. And if your carpal tunnel syndrome is severe, your thumb muscles may start to waste away, or your median nerve may be permanently damaged.

    Your symptoms may get better if you shake your wrist or change its position.

    Both hands can be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome. You're most likely to feel symptoms in your thumb, index and middle fingers, and the side of your ring finger nearest to your thumb. At first, your symptoms may be mild but they may gradually get worse. And they might come and go. You can get symptoms at any time but often carpal tunnel syndrome is worse at night and may even wake you up.

    If you have any of these symptoms, contact your GP for advice.

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome

    Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and your medical history. They’ll examine you too by doing the following.

    • Phalen test. Your GP will ask you to flex your wrists (or they may hold your wrist). If you get any pain or numbness within a minute, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome.
    • Tinel test. In this test, your GP will tap or press on your median nerve in your wrist to see if you get any tingling in your fingers.

    Your GP might be able to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome just by examining you and talking to you. But you might need to have some tests, which may include the following.

    • Nerve conduction test. Your GP may refer you for this test that can show if there’s any damage to your median nerve.
    • Electromyography (EMG). You may need to have this test to see how well your muscles respond when a nerve is stimulated. This can indicate if you have any nerve damage. During the test, a technician will insert fine needles into your muscles, which will detect any natural electrical activity given off by them.  
    • Ultrasound. This uses sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your wrist. This will enable your doctor to look at the structure of the median nerve in your hand. 

    Bupa On Demand: Carpal tunnel surgery

    Want to talk to a Bupa consultant about carpal tunnel surgery? We’ll aim to get you seen the next day. Prices from £250

  • Self-help Self-help

    Resting your hands and wrists regularly can often relieve mild symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

    If you think repetitive hand movements are causing your problem, try to limit any activities that make your symptoms worse. It may help if you change the way you do these actions or reduce how often you do them. It may also help to rest more between bursts of activity.

    Some people find that changing their mouse or keyboard shape can help, but there’s little evidence yet to prove this works. If you find your symptoms are worse at work, it might be worth having a chat with your employer about possible modifications to your workplace. 

  • Treatment Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome

    Living with carpal tunnel syndrome can be painful at times. Treatment helps to relieve your symptoms by reducing the pressure on your median nerve. It may also stop your condition from getting any worse.

    If you only have mild symptoms, they may improve without any treatment after about six months, especially if you're pregnant or under 30. 

    Wrist splints for carpal tunnel syndrome

    Wrist splints can help to keep your wrist straight and reduce pressure on the compressed nerve. This often relieves the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

    Your doctor will usually advise you to wear wrist splints at night for several weeks or months. Your symptoms should start to improve within three months. You can wear splints during the day as well, but you may find that they get in the way as you go about your day.

    Medicines for carpal tunnel syndrome

    Medicines used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome include the following.

    • Steroid injections. Your doctor will inject this directly into your carpal tunnel. Although your pain may get a little worse for a couple of days after the injection, your symptoms should improve after that. Some people find that their symptoms return after a few months, especially if they were serious to begin with. See our FAQ: How long will the injection’s effects last? for more information.
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. These might help to relieve your pain.

    Carpal tunnel surgery

    If your symptoms are severe or other treatments haven’t worked for you, your GP may suggest you have carpal tunnel release surgery. See Related information to find out what’s involved.

    Surgery is thought to work better than splinting at treating carpal tunnel syndrome, but doctors don’t know if it’s better than a steroid injection.

    Other treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome

    Exercise therapy

    Some people find that doing some hand and wrist exercises helps to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome. But there isn’t much evidence to show that they work. More research is needed to see whether special hand exercises – called nerve and tendon gliding exercises – can help.

    Complementary therapies

    Some people find acupuncture helps to relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and some research suggests it works. But more evidence is needed before we know for sure if acupuncture is an effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.

    There’s a small amount of evidence that yoga may help to reduce pain in some people with carpal tunnel syndrome. But again, more research is needed to know for sure.

    If you decide to try a complementary therapy, check that your therapist is registered with a recognised organisation.

    Our guide to living with carpal tunnel syndrome can help you understand what makes your symptoms better or worse and the treatment options available to you so you can manage your condition in a way that suits you. 

     

     

  • Carpal tunnel treatment on demand

    You can access a range of our health and wellbeing services on a pay-as-you-go basis, including carpal tunnel treatment.

  • Causes Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome

    There isn't much space in your carpal tunnel so any swelling can press on your median nerve, and cause the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. There are lots of reasons why this may happen so it can be difficult to find a specific cause.

    Some potential reasons include the following.

    • Smaller carpal tunnels. Some people simply have smaller carpal tunnels. This means you’re more likely to develop problems if there’s pressure on the nerve.
    • Weight. If you're overweight, you’re more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
    • Age. The risk of getting carpal tunnel syndrome increases as you get older.
    • Gender. Women are three times more likely than men to develop the condition, possibly because they naturally have smaller carpal tunnels.
    • An injury. You may be more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome if you’ve injured your wrist, such as broken or sprained it.
    • Other health conditions. You’re more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome if you have another condition, such as diabetes, or an underactive thyroid.
    • Hormones. Hormones may have something to do with carpal tunnel syndrome as some women develop it when they get pregnant or go through the menopause. See our FAQ: Can I take steroids if I'm pregnant? for more information about carpal tunnel syndrome and pregnancy.
    • Repetitive actions. Doing certain actions can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. If your work or hobbies include a lot of repetitive wrist actions, you may be more likely to get it, especially if you need to grip things tightly. If you work with vibrating tools, these can also make carpal tunnel syndrome more likely. 
  • FAQ: Steroid use in pregnancy I have carpal tunnel syndrome and I'm pregnant. Are steroids safe to use during pregnancy?

    Corticosteroid injections are often prescribed to treat carpal tunnel syndrome. If you’re pregnant, you can still take them.

    More information

    It's important to tell your GP if you think you might be pregnant as some medicines can harm your baby. But it’s not thought that taking a short course of these medicines during pregnancy will harm your baby.

    You could try wearing a wrist splint first to see if it helps. But if you're in a lot of discomfort and other treatments haven't helped, your GP may suggest you have a steroid injection.

    When you're pregnant, hormones you release can lead to fluid retention, which may cause swelling in your carpal tunnel and cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Your symptoms may get better once you’ve had your baby, often within six weeks. 

  • FAQ: Steroid injections I had a steroid injection for my carpal tunnel syndrome. How long will the effects last and can I have another one if this wears off?

    Some people find that their symptoms come back within a few months of having a corticosteroid injection for carpal tunnel syndrome. Having a second injection is unlikely to help.

    More information

    Injections of corticosteroids can improve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in the short term. They work by reducing inflammation in your carpal tunnel and so relieve pressure on your median nerve. But some people find that their symptoms return after a few months.

    You may be able to have further injections if your symptoms return and the first injection worked for you for a while. But there’s little evidence to show that this will give you any further relief.

    If your symptoms return after one injection, your GP will probably refer you to see a specialist for further treatment. 

  • FAQ: Repetitive strain injury What’s the difference between carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury?

    Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of a number of conditions that can affect your arms and hands. One umbrella term for these types of disorders is repetitive strain injury (RSI).

    More information

    There are lots of conditions that can affect your neck, shoulder, arm and hand. RSI is often used as an umbrella term to describe these. Another term used to describe them is overuse injury. These conditions are often very painful and can stop you carrying out daily activities and interfere with your work.

    You may get carpal tunnel syndrome because of repetitive actions but there are many other causes too.

    If you think you have carpal tunnel syndrome or another condition that’s causing RSI, have a chat with your employer. They may be able to give you workplace equipment and practices to help your symptoms. 

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information

    Sources

    • Carpal tunnel syndrome. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, published 30 September 2015
    • Median nerve entrapment. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 24 February 2016
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome imaging. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 9 October 2015
    • Wrist joint anatomy. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 11 June 2013
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome and median nerve lesions. PatientPlus. www.patient.info/patientplus, last checked 13 June 2014
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 1 July 2015
    • Map of Medicine. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). International view. London: Map of medicine; 2015 (issue 1)
    • Commissioning guide: treatment of painful tingling fingers. Royal College of Surgeons of England. www.rcseng.ac.uk, published November 2013
    • O'Connor D, Page MJ, Marshall SC, et al. Ergonomic positioning or equipment for treating carpal tunnel syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 1. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009600
    • Carpal tunnel ultrasound and injection. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists. www.insideradiology.com.au, last modified 14 May 2013
    • Page MJ, O'Connor D, Pitt V, et al. Exercise and mobilisation interventions for carpal tunnel syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 6. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009899
    • Sim H, Shin BC, Lee MS, et al. Acupuncture for carpal tunnel syndrome: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Pain 2011; 12(3):307–14. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2010.08.006
    • Neurology. Oxford handbook of clinical medicine (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published January 2014
    • Nursing patients with orthopaedic and musculoskeletal trauma problems. Oxford handbook of adult nursing (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published August 2010
    • Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed 13 May 2016
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome (acute and chronic). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). www.guideline.gov, published 7 May 2013
    • Overuse phenomena and RSI. PatientPlus. www.patient.info/patientplus, last checked 12 May 2014
    • What are ULDS? Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 13 May 2016
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, June 2016.
    Peer reviewed by Giles Bantick, Consultant Plastic Surgeon and Hand Surgeon.
    Next review due July 2018.

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Image of Andrew Byron

Andrew Byron
Head of health content and clinical engagement




  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
  • Nick Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
  • Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.

Readable

In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.

Reliable

We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.

Relevant

We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: healthinfo@bupa.com. Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Bupa House
15-19 Bloomsbury Way
London
WC1A 2BA

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.