Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome usually begin gradually. Discomfort in the thumb and fingers — excluding the little finger — may be intermittent. Some individuals wake up during the night with pain and feel the need to shake out or flick the hand or wrist; this common symptom of nighttime waking may be because people tend to sleep with flexed wrists. The pain of carpal tunnel syndrome is felt along the path of the median nerve and may extend to the elbow.

Sometimes, individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome may find it difficult to grasp and turn a steering wheel, hold a book or phone, button clothes, use a screwdriver/wrench, or form a fist. Upon awakening, people with carpal tunnel syndrome may find it difficult to extend or flex their fingers.

Some of the other common signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are uncomfortable or painful feelings in the hand and wrist, especially in the thumb and first three fingers, including:

  • Burning
  • Feeling like an electric shock
  • Itching
  • Numbness
  • Shooting pain
  • Tingling
  • Weakness in the grip
  • “Fingers feeling full or larger than they really are”
  • More effort making a fist in one hand over another

People with advanced or untreated carpal tunnel syndrome and nerve damage may be unable to feel the difference between hot and cold; others may suffer from weakness in the thumb’s pinching muscles, causing the palm area below the thumb (known as the thenar eminence) to atrophy.

Our Care Team

  • Professor of Neurological Surgery, Spinal Surgery
  • Co-Director, Spinal Deformity and Scoliosis Program
  • Director, Spinal Trauma/Adult and Pediatric Spinal Surgery
Phone: 212-746-2260
  • Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
Phone: (718) 670-1837

Reviewed by: Galal Elsayed, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: October 2023 

Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787