Published 6/11/2024

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: AAOS Updates Clinical Practice Guideline

Latest evidence-based recommendations focused on long-term benefits to help orthopaedic surgeons, physicians and patients determine best treatment approach

ROSEMONT, Ill. (June 11, 2024)—The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) issued an update to the Clinical Practice Guideline (CPG) for Management of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), which replaces the previous edition from 2016. The guideline was developed to address the diagnosis and treatment of adult patients 18 years of age and older, presenting with complaints that may be attributed to CTS. The updated guideline is streamlined to focus on the long-term benefits of CTS treatment.

To view the full guideline, click here.

“While the 2016 guideline covered several recommendations for the short-term effects of CTS treatment, our workgroup chose to focus on long-term patient outcomes as shifts in healthcare require a focus on cost-effective, high-quality and patient-centered care,” said Lauren Shapiro, MD, co-chair of the guideline development group. “This update provides physicians and patients with clear recommendations to optimize outcomes while minimizing unnecessary interventions.”

CTS is the most common compressive neuropathy affecting the upper extremity. Symptoms such as pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and forearm can lead to morbidity and lost productivity. According to the National Institutes of Health, in the Medicare patient population alone, the burden of CTS accounts for $2.7 to $4.8 billion annually in the United States.

“The CPG was organized to cover workup, treatment and postoperative care of CTS and highlights areas where certain patients can avoid some debatable preoperative treatments (e.g., corticosteroid injections), preoperative tests and postoperative therapies based on the evidence cited in this guideline,” said Robin Kamal, MD, FAAOS, co-chair of the guideline development group.

CTS Diagnosis
The guideline updated the 2016 recommendation to include a strong recommendation on CTS diagnosis, noting that CTS-6, an evaluation tool that accounts for symptoms and disease history, can be used to diagnose CTS. Strong evidence demonstrates that CTS-6 can be used in lieu of the routine use of ultrasonography or a nerve conduction velocity test (NCV) and electromyography (EMG) which can be painful and expensive. Additionally, moderate evidence suggests that MRI and Upper Limb Neurodynamic testing should not be used to diagnose CTS.

The CPG supports the notion that both mini-open and endoscopic carpal tunnel release provide similar long-term outcomes for the treatment of CTS and notes the following recommendations for the treatment of CTS:

  • The use of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections – a new addition to the CPG – and corticosteroid injections both demonstrated a lack of long-term benefits in the nonoperative treatment of CTS.
  • Strong evidence showed that local anesthetic alone can be used for carpal tunnel release.
  • Limited evidence suggests that carpal tunnel release may be safely conducted in the office setting. Studies consistently demonstrated that there is no increased risk of complications with higher ratings of patient experience and satisfaction when compared to surgical release in the operating room.

Postoperative Care
The guideline also includes the following recommendations and option (guidance formulated with either low-quality evidence, no evidence or conflicting evidence) following surgical treatment:

  • Moderate evidence suggests postoperative supervised therapy should not be routinely prescribed after carpal tunnel release.
  • Strong evidence suggests that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or acetaminophen should be used after carpal tunnel release for postoperative pain management.
  • Limited evidence suggests perioperative prophylactic antibiotics are not indicated for the prevention of surgical site infection following carpal tunnel release.

Additionally, in the absence of reliable evidence, the guideline notes that it is the opinion of the workgroup that no evidence strongly supports the association between high keyboard use and CTS in the literature.

“The recommendations in this CPG highlight areas which are intended for shared decision-making between patients and their physicians and are not meant to be used for insurer determinations,” said Dr. Kamal. “It’s important for patients to understand the risks, benefits, and costs associated with care in the preoperative (testing), intraoperative (anesthesia) and postoperative (therapy) phases of surgical care. As we continue research on the quality, cost, and patient-centeredness of various treatment approaches, our patients and profession will benefit.”

Development of this CPG was a collaborative effort between representatives from the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, the American Association for Hand Surgery, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the American Society of Hand Therapists, the American College of Radiology, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

CPGs are not meant to be stand-alone documents but rather serve as a point of reference and educational tool for orthopaedic surgeons and healthcare professionals managing patients presenting with complaints which may be attributable to CTS. CPGs recommend accepted approaches to treatment and/or diagnosis and are not intended to be a fixed protocol for treatment or diagnosis. Patient care and treatment should always be based on a clinician’s independent medical judgment, giving the individual patient’s specific clinical circumstances.
The full Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is intended for reference by orthopaedic surgeons and other physicians, and available through AAOS’ OrthoGuidelines website and free mobile app. For more information on the development process for AAOS clinical practice guidelines, please view the Clinical Practice Guideline Methodology.

About the AAOS
With more than 39,000 members, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is the world’s largest medical association of musculoskeletal specialists. The AAOS is the trusted leader in advancing musculoskeletal health. It provides the highest quality, most comprehensive education to help orthopaedic surgeons and allied health professionals at every career level to best treat patients in their daily practices. The AAOS is the source for information on bone and joint conditions, treatments and related musculoskeletal healthcare issues; and it leads the healthcare discussion on advancing quality.

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Deanna Killackey 


Lauren Riley