Carpal tunnel syndrome can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. In the mild stage, symptoms are usually worse when you wake up in the morning. In the severe stage, symptoms may bother you all the time.

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Carpal tunnel syndrome is a group of symptoms that happen as a result of compression of your median nerve, which passes through the underside of your wrist.

This condition can become progressively worse if you don’t stop or modify the activity that’s causing the compression.

The mild and moderate stages can often be treated without invasive treatments. But the severe stage often requires surgery to take pressure off the median nerve and prevent permanent nerve damage and hand dysfunction.

Read on to learn more about the stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, including potential symptoms and treatment options for each stage.

Mild carpal tunnel syndrome is the least severe stage, and symptoms can often be treated by avoiding or modifying the activities that are contributing to the condition.

Symptoms

if you have mild carpal tunnel syndrome, you might wake up with numbness in one or both hands, with or without noticeable swelling. Your symptoms might come and go throughout the day.

Possible symptoms include:

  • mild to severe pain
  • tingling in your hand and fingers
  • wrist pain that gets better after you shake your hand
  • hand stiffness
  • hand clumsiness

Learn more about carpal tunnel symptoms.

Treatment

Mild carpal tunnel syndrome is often manageable with conservative treatment alone.

Conservative treatment options for mild carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • wearing a wrist splint to immobilize your wrist, especially while you’re sleeping
  • reducing or stopping the activity that led to your carpal tunnel syndrome
  • receiving a steroid injection to reduce inflammation

It can take up to 6 weeks of splinting before you notice an improvement in your symptoms.

At the moderate stage, carpal tunnel syndrome causes symptoms that become more noticeable throughout the day and may affect your work or daily activities.

Symptoms

The symptoms of moderate carpal tunnel syndrome are the same as those in the mild stage. You might also experience pain or numbness that interferes with hand function, and you might occasionally have trouble sleeping.

Symptoms might persist throughout the day when you perform repetitive wrist activities such as typing. They might also worsen if you maintain a flexed or extended wrist position for a long time.

Treatment

Like the mild stage, the moderate stage can usually be treated conservatively, without the need for surgery.

Severe carpal tunnel syndrome causes symptoms that persist almost all the time. It may require surgical treatment to avoid permanent nerve damage.

Symptoms

Severe carpal tunnel syndrome can cause symptoms that seriously affect your quality of life. You may develop weakness in your thumb or shrinking of the muscles that control your thumb. You may also have difficulty gripping objects and getting a full night’s sleep.

Treatment

If conservative treatment options haven’t improved your symptoms and they return regularly, a doctor may recommend surgery to release pressure on the nerve. They will also likely recommend surgery if tests show that you have nerve damage or muscle wasting.

Surgery typically takes around 30 minutes, and full recovery can take weeks to months. You can usually return to heavy manual labor after 4 to 6 weeks and desk work after a few days. But it’s important to remember that each person’s recovery timeline can look different.

Learn more about surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is thought to affect 1% to 5% of people at any given time. You may have a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome if you:

  • are female
  • perform frequent, repetitive hand movements
  • have experienced a wrist injury such as a sprain or fracture
  • repeatedly use vibrating machinery
  • have problems with your thyroid or pituitary gland
  • have rheumatoid arthritis
  • have diabetes

Outlook

Carpal tunnel syndrome tends to progress over time if left untreated. The outlook for carpal tunnel syndrome tends to be worse when diabetes or a bone fracture contributes to its development.

Mild or moderate symptoms respond to conservative treatment in 70% to 90% of cases.

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Mild carpal tunnel syndrome often goes away with home remedies alone. But in more advanced stages, the condition might require surgery.

Consider speaking with a doctor if treating the condition at home has not resolved your symptoms or if your symptoms are getting worse.

How fast does carpal tunnel progress?

Carpal tunnel may take anywhere from several days to several years to progress, depending on how much repetitive activity you engage in.

When do you need carpal tunnel surgery?

You’ll typically need carpal tunnel surgery if your pain is constant and interferes with your daily life or if you’re at risk of nerve damage.

What is end stage carpal tunnel?

End stage carpal tunnel is the development of hypotrophy or atrophy in your hand. Hypotrophy is an increase in muscle mass, whereas atrophy is a decrease.

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve in your wrist becomes compressed. The condition has mild, moderate, and severe stages.

Mild or moderate carpal tunnel syndrome often goes away with home treatment such as stopping the activity that caused it and splinting your wrist. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to reduce pressure on the nerve and prevent permanent nerve damage.