Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ


My doctor is testing me for carpal tunnel syndrome. So far the tests show normal strength in my thumb. I can't figure that out because sometimes I can't even pick up a glass of water. Can you explain this to me?


Studies confirm what you've noticed. Patients with early signs of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) often report hand weakness and clumsiness. Yet when grip and pinch strength are measured, they seem normal.

The nerve to the thumb (median nerve) is affected by CTS. The effects may be different than expected. For example, according to a recent study at the Hand Research Lab in Pittsburgh, it looks like the other nerves help take over for the damaged median nerve.

Grip and pinch strength are also movements accomplished using several muscles. The other muscles may kick in giving a "normal" strength reading. But when it comes to a fine motor task such as picking something up, the impaired coordination of sensory and motor messages make the task difficult if not impossible.

Scientists don't have the complete answer to your question. For now we can validate your experience and say more studies are underway to find an explanation.

Zong-Ming Li, PhD, et al. Thumb Strength Affected by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. In Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. December 2005. No. 441. Pp. 320-326.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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