Clinical and Electrodiagnostic Testing of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Narrative Review
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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a pressure-induced neuropathy that causes sensorimotor disturbances of the median nerve, which impair functional ability. A clear history that elicits relevant personal and work exposures and the nature of symptoms can lead to a high probability of a correct diagnosis. Hand diagrams and diagnostic questionnaires are available to provide structure to this process. A variety of provocative tests have been described and have variable accuracy. The Phalen's wrist flexion and the carpal compression tests have the highest overall accuracy, while Tinel's nerve percussion test is more specific to axonal damage that may occur as a result of moderate to severe CTS. Sensory evaluation of light touch, vibration, or current perception thresholds can detect early sensory changes, whereas 2-point discrimination changes and thenar atrophy indicate loss of nerve fibers occurring with more severe disease. Electrodiagnosis can encompass a variety of tests and is commonly used to assess the presence/severity of neuropathic changes and to preclude alternative diagnoses that overlap with CTS in presentation. The pathophysiologic changes occurring with different stages of nerve compression must be considered when interpreting diagnostic test results and predicting response to physical therapy management.
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