Symptoms and Risk Factors for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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Early carpal tunnel symptoms can be subtle; they may come and go and eventually worsen. With carpal tunnel, the nerves and muscles in your wrist can have permanent damage if you don't treat the problem. Spotting carpal tunnel symptoms early is important so you can start treatment and possibly avoid surgery. Are you at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome? Consider these carpal tunnel causes, risk factors, and symptoms.

Carpal Tunnel Symptoms

Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when something puts pressure on the main nerve in the wrist. Something growing in the wrist—such as a mass—can cause this. Inflammation in the wrist is another cause.

Many people feel wrist pain. But, carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms start slowly. They often start and then go away. Over time, symptoms get worse—they happen more often and last longer.

Sometimes, symptoms develop after you've hurt your wrist. Many times, symptoms appear without any injury. They're usually in the hand you use the most. Some people have symptoms in both hands.

Common symptoms include:

  • Wrist pain, which may go all the way up to the shoulder

  • Numbness or tingling, especially in the thumb and other fingers except the little finger

  • A burning feeling in your fingers or wrist

  • A shocking feeling that shoots into your fingers

  • Difficulty gripping objects

  • Weakness in your hands

  • Dropping things often

  • Feeling that your fingers are thick, even though they don't look any different

  • Trouble forming a fist

  • Symptoms that are worse at night and may wake you from sleep

  • Pain that gets worse when you use your hands or wrists a lot

  • Finding relief when you shake your hands

After you've had symptoms for a long time, they can get worse. You may lose some feeling in your hands.

Other health problems also can cause symptoms like these. One way carpal tunnel syndrome is different than other conditions with similar symptoms is that it usually does not cause any visible swelling in your fingers or hand. The swelling is inside your wrist, so you don't see it.

You should always see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Your doctor can diagnose the problem and treat it the right way.

Carpal Tunnel Causes and Risk Factors

Why do some people get carpal tunnel syndrome and others don't? Doctors don't fully understand the factors that increase people's risk of developing this condition. However, there are some activities and conditions that seem to raise the risk.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in people who do certain types of work. They have jobs where they do the same motions with their hands over and over again throughout the day. This includes such occupations as:

  • Mechanics

  • Musicians

  • Assembly-line workers

  • Grocery store cashiers

  • Carpenters

  • People who work at a computer for much of the day

  • People who work with machines or tools that vibrate

Hobbies that strain the wrist and increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Sewing and other needlework

  • Golfing

  • Working in the garden

  • Rowing a boat

Health conditions that increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome include:

Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in women. It's also more common in people who have a family member with the condition. If you have risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome, talk with your doctor or a physical therapist. They can examine your wrists and show you ways to prevent or reduce your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 17

  1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke.

  2. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Mayo Clinic.

  3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

  4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  5. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Johns Hopkins Medicine.

  6. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. American Academy of Family Physicians.

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