Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

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Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is an extremely common and costly upper extremity condition that accounts for over $2 billion in medical costs annually in the United States. In addition to causing pain and numbness, CTS causes individuals to miss an average of 27 days of work from the onset of the condition to its final treatment.

This article will outline the key facts and statistics that you should know about carpal tunnel syndrome.

carpal tunnel

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Overview

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve becomes pinched or squeezed as it travels through a passageway in the wrist formed by the carpal bones and the flexor retinaculum. This nerve impingement can lead to a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Swelling in your hand, wrist, or forearm

Early on, CTS symptoms primarily are felt when you wake up in the morning and resolve when you shake or move your hand around. As the condition progresses, however, the symptoms become more prolonged and may arise anytime you flex or extend your wrist or hand throughout the day. 

How Common Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the single most common peripheral nerve compression issue in the United States.

The symptoms associated with this diagnosis are sometimes acute (sudden onset and lasting a short time), but they usually are chronic (lasting over many months or years).

While the cause of CTS is still not completely clear, one review of the literature approximated that 6 out of every 100 adult men and 9 out of every 100 adult women in the country may be affected.

In addition, because CTS can be caused or aggravated by repetitive hand movements, it can be common in people whose occupations involve these activities.

In this subset of the workforce (which includes manufacturing, meatpacking, sewing, and cleaning jobs), more than 1 in 10 workers have symptoms consistent with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by Age & Gender

Any adult can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, but certain populations have a higher incidence than others. This includes:

  • People assigned female at birth: Factors like pregnancy, oral contraceptive use, and menopause have been closely linked to a high incidence of CTS. Females are also generally smaller in stature anatomically, making the physical space in the carpal tunnel more narrow and the median nerve more prone to impingement.
  • People aged 40 to 60: The reasons for this are still unclear. One potential explanation is that certain health conditions—like congestive heart failure and alcoholism, which have been shown to increase your risk of CTS—are more commonly seen during this stage of life. People in this age bracket may also have participated in the workforce for many decades, making it more likely that they were exposed to years of hand and arm movements or tasks.     

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Risk Factors

Certain people are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, including:

  • People assigned female at birth
  • Individuals who are middle-aged (40 to 60 years old)
  • Occupations with repetitive hand movements or prolonged exposure to vibration
  • People with obesity
  • Individuals who are pregnant, using oral contraceptives, or who have undergone menopause
  • People with chronic health issues like diabetes, alcoholism, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, vitamin deficiency, or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

Screening for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome typically begins with a thorough examination by a medical provider.

During this evaluation, you’ll usually be asked about your symptoms' location, frequency, timing, and duration. Sensory and motor tests—including several that typically provoke the symptoms of CTS—are also commonly performed. Your provider will also look for visual signs of atrophy in the palm muscle near the base of your thumb, as this can occur in advanced cases of the condition.

In addition, electromyography (EMG) testing is also sometimes ordered. This assessment tool uses fine needles to measure the ability of the median nerve to send sensory and motor signals to the wrist and hand. The diagnostic intervention may be used with a clinical exam to differentiate CTS from other nerve issues. It is helps determine the appropriateness of various treatment options.

Common carpal tunnel treatments include:

  • Use of wrist splints
  • Activity modification
  • Physical therapy focusing on wrist stretching and median nerve gliding
  • Corticosteroid injection
  • Surgery (open and arthroscopic) to release the transverse carpal ligament


Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common nerve condition that affects the hand, wrist, and forearm. Most common in women and people in middle age, CTS is also frequently seen in people with jobs that require repetitive or physical use of the upper extremities.

Carpal tunnel syndrome typically leads to hand or wrist pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. Advanced cases can also cause significant disability and make it difficult to work. A physical exam and an EMG test may be needed to make a definitive diagnosis.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wright AR, Atkinson RE. Carpal tunnel syndrome: an update for the primary care physician. Hawaii J Health Soc Welf. 2019;78(11 Suppl 2):6-10.

  2. Genova A, Dix O, Saefan A, Thakur M, Hassan A. Carpal tunnel syndrome: a review of literature. Cureus. 2020;12(3). doi:10.7759/cureus.7333

  3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Carpal tunnel syndrome fact sheet.

  4. Dale AM, Harris-Adamson C, Rempel D, et al. Prevalence and incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome in US working populations: pooled analysis of six prospective studies. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2013;39(5):495-505. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3351

By Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS
Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS, is a board-certified orthopedic specialist who has practiced as a physical therapist for more than a decade.