Clinical management of carpal tunnel syndrome: a 12-year review of outcomes

Am J Ind Med. 1999 Mar;35(3):232-45. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0274(199903)35:3<232::aid-ajim3>;2-g.


Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a disorder frequently encountered by occupational health care specialists. The health care management of this disorder has involved a diverse set of clinical procedures. The present article is a review of the literature related to CTS with an emphasis on occupational-related CTS. MEDLINE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, PsycLIT, and NIOSHTIC databases from 1985-1997 were searched for treatment outcome studies related to CTS. Treatments of interest included surgery, physical therapy, drug therapy, chiropractic treatment, biobehavioral interventions, and occupational rehabilitation. A systematic review of the effects of these interventions on symptoms, medical status, function, return to work, psychological well-being, and patient satisfaction was completed. Compared to other treatments, the majority of studies assessed the effects of surgical interventions. Endoscopic release was associated with higher levels of physical functioning and fewer days to return to work when compared to open release. Limited evidence indicated: 1) steroid injections and oral use of B6 were associated with pain reduction; 2) in comparison to splinting, range of motion exercises appeared to be associated with less pain and fewer days to return to work; 3) cognitive behavior therapy yielded reductions in pain, anxiety, and depression; and, 4) multidisciplinary occupational rehabilitation was associated with a higher percentage of chronic cases returning to work than usual care. Workers' compensation status was associated with increased time to return to work following surgery. Conclusions are preliminary due to the small number of well-controlled studies, variability in duration of symptoms and disability, and the broad range of reported outcome measures. While there are several opinions regarding effective treatment, there is very little scientific support for the range of options currently used in practice. Despite the emerging evidence of the multivariate nature of CTS, the majority of outcome studies have focused on single interventions directed at individual etiological factors or symptoms and functional limitations secondary to CTS.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia / methods
  • Analgesia / standards
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Behavior Therapy / methods
  • Behavior Therapy / standards
  • Behavior Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / economics
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / rehabilitation
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / therapy*
  • Chiropractic / methods
  • Chiropractic / standards
  • Chiropractic / statistics & numerical data
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Occupational Therapy / methods
  • Occupational Therapy / standards
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / methods
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / standards
  • Prospective Studies
  • Steroids / therapeutic use
  • United States


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Steroids