Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Physical Exam for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
As part of the physical exam
carpal tunnel symptoms, your doctor will:
One or more of the following tests are commonly used to
diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome:
Your doctor taps
on the inside of your wrist over the
median nerve. If you feel tingling, numbness, "pins
and needles," or a mild "electrical shock" sensation in your hand when tapped
on the wrist, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome.
You hold your arms out in front of you and then
flex your wrists, letting your hands hang down for about 60 seconds. If you
feel tingling, numbness, or pain in the fingers within 60 seconds, you may have
carpal tunnel syndrome.
This test is used
when severe carpal tunnel syndrome is suspected. It is not very accurate for
mild carpal tunnel syndrome. To do the test, your doctor has you
close your eyes and then uses small instruments, such as the tips of two opened
paper clips, to touch two points (fairly close together) on your hand or
finger. Typically, you would feel separate touches if the two points are at
least 0.5 cm (0.2 in.) apart.
In severe carpal tunnel syndrome, you may not be able to tell the difference
between the two touches, so it may feel as though only one place is being
A physical exam with a focus on your
neck, arms, wrists, and hands is done if there is tingling, numbness, weakness,
or pain of the fingers, thumb, or hand. The exam is to help find out whether your symptoms are caused by compression of the median nerve as it
passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome).
There appears to be no sign of altered or loss of feeling
or strength, or pain in the hand, wrist, arm, or neck during the physical
Tinel's sign and Phalen's tests produce mild to severe
signs of tingling, numbness, loss of feeling or strength, or pain in the
If you have mild symptoms of
tingling, numbness, loss of feeling or strength, or pain in a wrist or hand,
you can start nonsurgical (conservative) treatment right away. Nonsurgical
treatment includes rest, stopping activities that may be causing the symptoms,
and the use of a wrist splint at night. Studies have not shown
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to be effective for carpal tunnel
syndrome. But they may help relieve symptoms.
If it is not
clear that the symptoms are caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, or if the
condition is not improving with home treatment, your doctor may
recommend nerve testing, X-rays, MRI, ultrasound, and/or blood tests. These
test results should help to clarify your diagnosis.
Complete the medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerHerbert von Schroeder, MD, MSc, FRCSC - Hand and Microvascular Surgery
Current as ofMay 22, 2015
Current as of:
May 22, 2015
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Herbert von Schroeder, MD, MSc, FRCSC - Hand and Microvascular Surgery
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.