Carpal tunnel syndrome: symptoms and treatment

Do you wake at night with tingling, aching hands?

This could be a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be a debilitating condition but there are simple treatments available.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where a patient suffers from an increased pressure on the nerve that crosses the front of your wrist. The nerve is known as the median nerve and runs through a tight tunnel with the tendons that allows you to bend your fingers.


Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can vary. They usually come on gradually over time but sometimes can start very quickly and progress rapidly. Patients describe an intermittent feeling of ‘pins and needles’ in some, or all, the fingers supplied by the nerve. This is often worse at night but during the day it can be set off by activities such as driving, reading a newspaper or holding a phone to your ear. Some patients get pain on the front of their forearm which can at times be very unpleasant. Later on the hand can feel weak and uncoordinated and some people find it difficult to perform fine tasks such as doing up buttons. One or both hands can be affected but often one side is worse than the other.

What can cause carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common problem that affects women more frequently than men – as many as 5 in every 100 women may suffer from it during their lifetime.

There is no obvious cause for the condition, although some things are thought to increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome developing:

  • If a close family member suffers from it.
  • Pregnancy and menopause can bring on the symptoms and it is more common if you are overweight.
  • Injuries to the wrist.
  • If you have conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or an under active thyroid.
  • Strenuous, repetitive work with the hand.

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome

Sometimes the symptoms will clear up by themselves but, if symptoms persist, you might try wearing a wrist splint at night or a steroid injection around the nerve. Surgery is an option for people who have intrusive symptoms which haven’t responded to non-surgical treatment or for those who start to develop signs of permanent nerve damage at their fingertips, such as numbness all the time.

The procedure only takes about 10 minutes (usually performed under a local anaesthetic) and reliably cures the problem in 95% of people. There’s no need to stay overnight in hospital and patients are encouraged to start using the hand again for light activities immediately after the surgery.

Page last reviewed on 02/03/2016