What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is estimated to affect approximately 3-6% of the general population, making it one of the most common nerve compression disorders. This condition results in wrist pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling in the hand and fingers. It occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the hand, becomes compressed or squeezed at the wrist.

If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause weakness, numbness, and pain in the hand and wrist. It can also make it difficult to grip objects or perform everyday tasks.

What Is Carpal Tunnel?

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist formed by the transverse carpal ligament and the bones of the wrist. It protects the median nerve and the tendons that control finger movement. When there is pressure or compression on the median nerve, it can cause inflammation and irritation, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.

When you visit a doctor, they will perform several tests, including a physical exam and nerve conduction studies, to determine whether you have carpal tunnel syndrome. However, understanding the causes of this condition can help in preventing it from occurring.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Caused By?

Several factors can contribute to the development of CTS. These include:

Repetitive Motion

Repetitive and forceful hand movements, such as typing on a keyboard or using tools that vibrate, can put pressure on the median nerve and lead to CTS. These activities are common in jobs such as data entry, assembly line work, and construction.

Hand and Wrist Positioning

Constantly bending the wrist or keeping it in an awkward position can also compress the median nerve and cause CTS. This is why office workers who spend long hours typing on a keyboard or using a mouse are at higher risk of developing this condition.


An injury or trauma to the wrist may also result in swelling that compresses the median nerve, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome. Fractures, sprains, and dislocations are common causes of wrist trauma.

Health Conditions

Certain health conditions can also increase the risk of developing CTS. These include diabetes, thyroid disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis.

For instance, high blood sugar levels can lead to nerve inflammation and compromise nerve function, increasing the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. On the other hand, thyroid imbalances, particularly hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), can result in fluid retention and tissue swelling throughout the body, including the wrist area, potentially contributing to carpal tunnel syndrome.


Women are three times more likely to develop CTS than men. This could be due to the fact that women generally have smaller carpal tunnels, which can be more easily compressed.


Pregnancy can also increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to fluid retention and hormonal changes that may cause swelling in the wrist.


Being overweight or obese can put extra pressure on the median nerve, increasing the risk of developing CTS.


Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to having a smaller carpal tunnel or a thicker band of tissue that runs over the median nerve, making them more susceptible to developing CTS.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel

  • Numbness and Tingling: Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome often experience numbness, tingling, or "pins and needles" sensations in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and part of the ring finger. These sensations may radiate up the arm.
  • Pain and Discomfort: Persistent pain or aching in the wrist, hand, or forearm, especially at night or during activities that involve repetitive hand movements, is a common symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Weakness: Weakness in the hand or difficulty gripping objects may occur due to impaired nerve function resulting from median nerve compression within the carpal tunnel.
  • Burning Sensation: Some individuals may experience a burning sensation in the fingers or hand, particularly in the areas innervated by the median nerve.
  • Swelling and Stiffness: Swelling and stiffness in the fingers or hand, often accompanied by a feeling of tightness in the wrist, can be indicative of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Difficulty Performing Fine Motor Skills: Tasks that require fine motor skills or precision, such as buttoning a shirt, picking up small objects, or writing, may become challenging due to decreased dexterity and coordination.
  • Worsening Symptoms at Night: Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often worsen at night or upon waking, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and discomfort that can affect daily functioning.
  • Radiating Pain: In some cases, individuals may experience radiating pain that travels from the wrist up the arm towards the shoulder or neck.
  • Tightness in the Wrist: A feeling of tightness or pressure in the wrist area, especially when bending or extending the wrist, can be a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Loss of Sensation: In severe cases, prolonged compression of the median nerve can lead to a loss of sensation or permanent nerve damage in the affected fingers.

How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel

Here are some effective strategies to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Maintain Proper Posture: Maintain good posture while sitting or standing to reduce strain on your wrists and hands. Avoid slouching or hunching over while working.
  • Take Breaks: Take regular breaks during activities that involve repetitive hand movements. Allow your wrists and hands to rest and recover periodically.
  • Ergonomic Workspace: Ensure your workstation is ergonomically designed to support proper wrist alignment. Use a wrist rest, ergonomic keyboard, and mouse to reduce strain on your wrists.
  • Wrist Position: Keep your wrists in a neutral position while typing or using a computer mouse. Avoid excessive bending or twisting of the wrists.
  • Stretching Exercises: Perform wrist and hand stretching exercises regularly to improve flexibility and reduce muscle and tendon tension. Consult with a healthcare provider or physical therapist for recommended exercises.
  • Strengthening Exercises: Strengthen the muscles in your hands and forearms to support the wrists and reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Use hand grippers or therapy putty for resistance training.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess body weight can put a strain on the wrists and increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink an adequate amount of water to maintain proper hydration levels in your body and reduce fluid retention that can contribute to wrist swelling.
  • Avoid Repetitive Movements: Minimize repetitive hand and wrist movements where possible. Use tools or equipment that reduce the strain on your wrists during tasks.
  • Use Proper Technique: Use proper technique and form when engaging in activities that involve hand movements, such as typing, playing musical instruments, or using hand tools.
  • Manage Underlying Health Conditions: If you have medical conditions like diabetes, arthritis, or thyroid disorders, work with your healthcare provider to manage these conditions effectively to reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Wrist Support: Consider using wrist splints or supports during activities that strain the wrists, especially at night, to provide additional support and prevent excessive bending of the wrists.

Does Carpal Tunnel Go on Its Own?

In some cases, mild symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may resolve on their own with rest and changes in hand or wrist positions. However, if the underlying cause of CTS is not addressed, these symptoms may return and worsen over time.

Without proper treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to permanent nerve damage and loss of sensation in the affected fingers. Therefore, it is essential to seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of CTS and follow a comprehensive treatment plan to manage the condition effectively.

What Are the Treatments for Carpal Tunnel?

People with carpal tunnel can resort to the following treatment options:

  • Wrist Splinting: Wearing a wrist splint, especially at night or during activities that exacerbate symptoms, can help keep the wrist in a neutral position, relieving pressure on the median nerve and reducing tingling and numbness.
  • Activity Modification: Adjusting how you perform tasks that strain the wrists, taking frequent breaks, and using ergonomic tools and techniques can help alleviate symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.
  • Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Physical Therapy: Specific exercises to strengthen the muscles in the hand and wrist, improve flexibility, and enhance overall hand function can be beneficial in managing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Ultrasound Therapy: Ultrasound treatment may help reduce inflammation, promote healing, and alleviate pain by increasing blood flow to the affected area.
  • Steroid Injections: Corticosteroid injections into the carpal tunnel can temporarily relieve inflammation and swelling around the median nerve.
  • Carpal Tunnel Surgery: In cases where conservative treatments are ineffective or if there is severe nerve compression, carpal tunnel release surgery may be recommended to relieve pressure on the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel. This surgical procedure can be done using traditional open surgery or minimally invasive techniques.
  • Nerve Gliding Exercises: These exercises involve gentle stretching of the median nerve to improve its mobility and reduce compression within the carpal tunnel.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments: Maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, managing underlying health conditions, and practicing good ergonomics can help manage symptoms and prevent the recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Acupuncture: Some individuals find relief from carpal tunnel symptoms through acupuncture. This traditional Chinese medicine practice involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to promote healing and pain relief.
  • Nutritional Supplements: Certain supplements, such as vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, may have anti-inflammatory properties and support nerve health, potentially benefiting individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome.

It's important to note that nonsurgical treatments are typically recommended as the first line of treatment for this condition. However, surgery for carpal tunnel is often considered if symptoms persist or worsen despite these interventions. Consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan to manage carpal tunnel syndrome effectively.

Relieve Your Carpal Tunnel Pain at The Minor Surgery Center

If you are experiencing persistent symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and have not found relief through nonsurgical treatments, the team at The Minor Surgery Center in Ontario can provide surgical treatment options to help. Our experienced, board-certified surgeons use advanced techniques to minimize scarring and promote a quicker recovery time.

Contact us today to schedule your consultation!

June 5, 2024