10 Early Warning Signs of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

10 Early Warning Signs of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

carpal tunnel syndromeHealth

If you’re struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome, you can take solace in knowing you are not alone. According to the American College of Rheumatology, over 4 million Americans are struggling with the same condition. That said, there are two different types of carpal tunnel syndrome, bilateral and unilateral. The good news, however, is that both of these conditions are treatable.

For those unfamiliar with carpal tunnel syndrome, the condition triggers a numbing or tingling sensation in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and ring finger. In most cases, carpal tunnel syndrome, also known as CTS, is a byproduct of a repetitive strain injury. For reference, these injuries result from cumulative damage to muscles, tendons, and nerves in the wrists and hands.


To better understand CTS, it helps to know a little more about repetitive strain injuries (RSI) as the two conditions often go hand in hand. Because repetitive strain injuries are the result of moving the same muscles, tendons, and nerves over and over again, individuals with certain occupations are more likely to develop them.


That said, between 2007 and 2014, the occupations with the highest rate of CTS-related worker’s compensation claims that stem from RSI were in production, material moving, and administrative support, according to a study published by safety.blr.com. Separate studies showed that CTS-related worker’s compensation claims were almost just as high for the following occupations:

  • Professional athletes
  • Cashiers
  • Seamstress
  • Construction workers

RSI can also be brought on by certain hobbies, such as drawing or crocheting, for example. Either way, most individuals will start to notice signs of RSI long before the condition gives way to CTS. Some of the most common tell-tale signs of an RSI include tenderness, swelling, and weakness that affect the hands or wrists. However, it is not uncommon to experience these symptoms in the forearms and elbows as well. RSI will eventually give way to CTS if the median nerve, which extends from the hand to the wrist, becomes compressed. This situation can happen if an individual does not seek treatment for their RSI or if the RSI is severe.


Now that we have a cursory knowledge of what causes CTS, let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with some of the first signs of the condition. Similar to RSI, those who develop CTS will often experience the following:

1 – Burning or tingling sensations

These symptoms are typically felt during the day and can affect the forearm as well as the wrists and hands.

2 – Hand numbness at night

Most people with CTS report experiencing a loss of feeling in their hands upon waking up in the morning. In most cases, this is the result of sleeping with one or both of their wrist in a bent position, which can place even more strain on an already compressed median nerve.

3 – Shock-like sensations

Along with burning, tingling, and hand numbness, CTS can also trigger intermittent shock-like feelings that affect the thumb and fingers. As the condition worsens, this particular symptom will start to present itself more frequently and may become more intense.

4 – A decline in pinch strength

Those with CTS will usually experience a loss in pinch strength, which makes even basic tasks, such as buttoning a shirt or gripping small objects, for example, exceedingly difficult.

5 – Pain

Those who are struggling with CTS often report feeling pain in their thumb, index, or their middle fingers. The same pain can also sometimes affect their entire hand.

6 – Itchy palms

While the exact reason for why this occurs is unclear, many individuals with CTS will develop itchy palms. Most scientists and researchers believe that this symptom is the result of the median nerve being pinched or compressed.

7 – Changes in hand temperature

Another common symptom associated with CTS is a change in hand temperature. Studies show that when the median nerve becomes either pinched or compressed, an individual’s hands will be colder or warmer compared to other parts of their body.

8 – Changes in skin color

Similar to changes in hand temperature, a pinched or compressed median nerve can also alter skin color on the affected hand.

9 – Unable to make a fist

According to a study published by Medical News Today, individuals with CTS often have a hard time when it comes to being able to make a fist.

10 – Stiff fingers

When the median nerve in the wrist becomes irritated as a result of being pinched or compressed, it often results in stiff fingers.


In addition to RDIs, many other factors can increase one’s risk of developing CTS. Some factors include obesity and chronic health problems, such as thyroid disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Not surprisingly, wrist fractures also contribute to CTS.


If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms detailed in this article, it would be a good idea to be seen by a physician as soon as possible. After all, doing so will help you determine whether or not your condition is associated with an underlying health problem. In either case, your physician will be able to outline a course of treatment that addresses your illness or one that resolves your CTS symptoms. Beyond that, he or she will likely also take x-rays to confirm your symptoms are not related to a wrist fracture. Along with taking x-rays to rule out wrist fractures, most physicians will perform the following to confirm a patient has CTS:


Physical exam

During these exams, the physician will try to identify muscle weakness in the hand where CTS is suspected. There are two different approaches when it comes to this particular type of exam, including

Tinel’s sign

Named after French neurologist Jules Tinel, the Tinel sign test helps physicians determine if the median nerve is pinched or compressed at the wrist. In short, these tests entail tapping over the nerve to trigger a tingling or a “pins and needles.” If the patient experiences either of these two sensations, they more than likely have CTS, especially if your physician rules out underlying health problems and wrist fractures.

Phalen test

Also commonly referred to as a Wrist flexion test, the Phalen test involves the physician holding the patient’s wrist in a flexed position for a set time. And if the patient starts to experiences numbness or tingling in their median nerve, they more than likely have CTS.

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