If you don’t get treatment for your carpal tunnel syndrome, it may spontaneously improve, OR, you may end up with permanent pain and grip weakness.

The tricky thing here is that you can’t tell for sure which category you’ll end up in.

So why take the chance?

Not all treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome requires surgery.

In fact, one option is steroid injections.

Worst Case Scenario if Carpal Tunnel Is Left Untreated

“Untreated carpal tunnel syndrome can cause severe pain, numbness and tingling, and muscle weakness of grip and loss of finger dexterity,” says John-Paul H. Rue, MD, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon with Orthopedics and Joint Replacement at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.

“In its most severe, late stage, these changes may be irreversible and permanent.”

This unfavorable outcome, however, is not guaranteed in any particular individual if they refuse treatment.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would refuse treatment, being that in many cases, the symptoms are very difficult to live with.

Amazingly, in some cases of untreated carpal tunnel syndrome, the symptoms spontaneously get better.

But remember, there’s no definitive way to predict which patients will have this favorable outcome.

A report in Neurology (Padua et al, June 2001) states: Some patients with CTS improve spontaneously without surgical treatment.

In this study, 196 patients with untreated carpal tunnel syndrome were followed for 10-15 months. Spontaneous improvement was correlated to younger age.

In the June 2008 Clinical Neurophysiology (Ortiz-Corredor et al), a report concludes from a study:

A significant percentage of patients with CTS had no change in their clinical and electrophysiological condition, while some improved spontaneously without treatment.

Based on these two studies, it’s likely that the majority of untreated carpal tunnel cases do not end up with permanent pain and compromised function, though that’s the worst that can happen.

Dr. Rue specializes in prevention and treatment of sports and exercise injuries. His primary focuses are knee, shoulder and elbow injuries including ACL and cartilage injuries, rotator cuff injuries and overuse tendonitis.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: Shutterstock/JPC-PROD