Carpal tunnel syndrome: diagnosis with high-resolution sonography

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1992 Oct;159(4):793-8. doi: 10.2214/ajr.159.4.1529845.


Objective: Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by typical anatomic changes that can be shown with high-resolution sonography. To determine whether these findings are reliable and can be used to establish the diagnosis, sonograms of patients with the disease were compared with sonograms obtained in patients with normal wrists. Also compared were sonograms and MR images obtained in the patients with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Subjects and methods: Twenty wrists in 18 consecutive patients with clinical symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and with abnormal nerve conduction studies were examined with real-time sonography and MR imaging. The sonograms and MR images were evaluated quantitatively by two unbiased observers with regard to the size and shape of the median nerve and the palmar bowing of the flexor retinaculum. A t test was used to compare these data with those from previous sonographic studies of 28 normal wrists. Correlation coefficients for the measurements obtained with sonography and with MR were calculated. The relative accuracies of different diagnostic criteria for the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome were assessed by using receiver-operating-characteristic analytical techniques.

Results: Characteristic findings on both MR and CT scans of the 20 wrists with carpal tunnel syndrome included swelling of the median nerve in the proximal part of the carpal tunnel in 16 wrists, flattening of the median nerve in the distal part of the carpal tunnel in 13 wrists, and increased palmar bowing of the flexor retinaculum in nine wrists. Comparison with the data of 28 normal wrists proved that these findings were significant (p less than .01 to p less than .001). Receiver-operating-characteristic analysis showed that the discrimination between wrists in normal subjects and in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome achieved with each of the three diagnostic criteria was not significantly different. Measurements of the size and flattening of the median nerve obtained from sonograms were similar to those on MR images, whereas sonography was less accurate for measuring the palmar bowing of the flexor retinaculum.

Conclusion: We conclude that the results of sonography are reliable, and that the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome can be established on the basis of sonographic findings.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Median Nerve / diagnostic imaging
  • Median Nerve / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • ROC Curve
  • Ultrasonography
  • Wrist / diagnostic imaging
  • Wrist / pathology