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What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Many people know carpal tunnel syndrome has something to do with wrist dysfunction. But what is it, really, and what can be done about it?

The median nerve controls movement and feeling in your digits from your thumb to your ring finger. It runs the length of your arm and goes through a passage in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. Swelling in the carpal tunnel can interfere with the median nerve and cause burning, tingling, or itching. Discomfort often starts in the hands and may extend all the way to your shoulder. In bad cases, carpal tunnel syndrome causes loss of strength and coordination. Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome has the potential to cause permanent damage, so don’t put off seeing a healthcare provider.1


The public knows that carpal tunnel syndrome is associated with repetitive tasks such as typing, especially with bad posture. Ergonomic improvements may help, but symptoms are also associated with obesity, hypothyroidism, arthritis, diabetes, pregnancy, trauma, and other situations.2  


Surgery is available, but lower cost, less invasive alternatives can be tried first. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and immobilisation. Physiotherapy also has a lot to offer. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that programs of exercises and stretches for the spine, shoulder, and wrist were more effective than splinting. These programs reduced the likelihood of surgery by 39%.3 A different study in the British Medical Journal found that therapeutic ultrasound created satisfactory improvement or complete remission in 74% of patients.4 Physiotherapy has approaches to create short-term relief and also physical improvement to prevent recurrence long-term.



  1. Lawrence RC, Felson DT, Helmick CG, et al. Estimates of the prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the United States. Part II. Arthritis Rheum. 2008; 58:26-35.
  2. Stevens JC, Witt JC, Smith BE, et al. The frequency of carpal tunnel syndrome in computer users at a medical facility. Neurology. 2001; 56: 1568-70.
  3. Garfinkel MS, Singhal A, Katz W, et al. Yoga-Based Intervention for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. JAMA 1998; 280: 1601-1603.
  4. Ebenbichler GR, et al. Ultrasound treatment for treating the carpal tunnel syndrome: randomized “sham” controlled trial. BMJ. March 7, 1998; 316: 731-5.

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