Medical history of carpal tunnel syndrome

Hand Clin. 2002 May;18(2):257-68. doi: 10.1016/s0749-0712(01)00006-3.


The anatomical configuration of the carpal tunnel is that of an inelastic channel. Consequently, any increase in its volume or alteration in shape will usually result in a significant increase in interstitial pressure. At a pressure threshold of 20 mm Hg to 30 mm Hg, epineurial blood flow is compromised. When that pressure is sustained, the symptoms and physical findings associated with CTS appear. Typically, patients present with intermittent pain and paresthesias in all or part of the median nerve distribution of their hand(s). As weeks and months pass, symptoms progressively increase in frequency and severity. Eventually, thenar muscle weakness develops that initially manifests itself as "fatigue," or "tiredness." The progressive increase in symptoms and physical findings, usually accompanied by a progressive deterioration in electrodiagnostic studies, facilitates the classification of the condition into early, intermediate, and advanced stages. The increase in interstitial pressure in the carpal tunnel is in the vast majority of cases idiopathic (spontaneous). It can also be caused by a myriad of other conditions that can be classified into three other categories: intrinsic factors that increase the volume of the tunnel (outside and inside the nerve), extrinsic factors that alter the contour of the tunnel, and repetitive/overuse conditions. In addition, there is another category of neuropathic factors that affect the nerve without increasing interstitial pressure. In rare situations CTS can present as an acute problem. Far less common than the chronic form of the condition, it can follow acute wrist trauma, rheumatologic disorders, hemorrhagic problems, vascular disorders affecting a patent median artery, and high pressure injection injuries. Prompt recognition is important, followed in most cases by urgent surgical decompression of the median nerve.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / etiology*
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / history
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pressure