Clinical tests for carpal tunnel syndrome: literature abstracts

Durkan, J.A. (1992). A new diagnostic test for carpal tunnel syndrome. Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 73A, 535-538.

A new test, called the carpal compression test, consists of application of direct pressure on the carpal tunnel and the underlying median nerve. The results of the Tinel percussion test, the Phalen wrist-flexion test, and the new test were evaluated in thirty-one patients (forty-six hands) in whom the presence of carpal tunnel syndrome had been proved electrodiagnostically, as well as in a control group of fifty subjects. For the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, the carpal compression test was found to be more sensitive and specific than the Tinel and Phalen tests.


Gellman, H., Gelberman, R.H., Tan, A.M., & Botte, M.J. (1986). Carpal tunnel syndrome: An evaluation of the provocative diagnostic tests. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 68A, 735-737.

In order to evaluate the usefulness of provocative tests (wrist-flexion test, nerve-percussion test, and tourniquet test) in the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, the results of provocative testing were evaluated in a group of patients (sixty-seven hands) with electrodiagnostically proved carpal-tunnel syndrome and in a group of fifty control subjects. The sensitivity and specificity of each test were calculated. The wrist-flexion test was found to be the most sensitive while the nerve-percussion test, although least sensitive, was most specific. The tourniquet test was quite insensitive and not very specific, and should not be used as a routine screening test in the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Sensitivity and specificity of Phalen's test
truth
delayed NCVnormal NCV
Phalen's test (wrist flexion) positive 45 853 who test positive
Phalen's test (wrist flexion) negative18 8 26 who test negative
63 with CTS 16 without CTS 79


Koris, M., Gelberman, R.H., Duncan, K., Boublick, M., & Smith, B. (1990). Carpal tunnel syndrome. Evaluation of a quantitative provocational diagnostic test. Clinical Orthopaedics & Related Research, 251, 157-161.

A diagnostic test combining the sensitivity of the Semmes-Weinstein monofilament measurement and the specificity of the wrist flexion provocational test has been evaluated in a group of 21 patients (33 hands) with electrodiagnostically verified carpal tunnel syndrome and 30 asymptomatic hands (controls). Semmes-Weinstein monofilament testing consisted of several sensory threshold measurements obtained by the application of force-calibrated Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments to each digit in the hand with the wrist in neutral position. The quantitative provocational diagnostic test employed Semmes-Weinstein measurements obtained with the wrist both in the neutral and flexed positions. The sensitivity (82%) and specificity (86%) of the combined test were calculated. It was more sensitive and specific than the wrist flexion test alone and more specific than the Semmes-Weinstein sensibility test. The combined test is recommended as the most accurate and sensitive quantitative clinical test for median nerve compression evaluated by the authors to date.


Kuhlman, K.A., & Hennessey, W.J. (1997). Sensitivity and specificity of carpal tunnel syndrome signs. American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 76, 451-457.

The sensitivity and specificity of six carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) signs were determined by 143 subjects (228 hands) with symptoms of CTS. Immediately after performing six physical examination tests, standard nerve conduction studies were performed on all 228hands to determine the presence or absence of CTS. CTS was present in 142 hands and absent in 86 hands. The signs were not very sensitive (23-69%), but were fairly specific (66-87%) for CTS. A square-shaped wrist and abductor pollicis brevis weakness were the most sensitive signs (69 and 66%, respectively), and are recommended as part of the examination of CTS. Median nerve hypesthesia and the Phalen sign both have fair sensitivity (51%) but good specificity (85 and 76%, respectively). The median nerve compression sign and the Hoffmann-Tinel sign both have poor sensitivity (28 and 23%, respectively), and thus are less helpful in evaluating subjects with suspected CTS.


Kuschner, S.H., Ebramzadeh, E., Johnson, D., Brien, W.W., & Sherman, R. (1992). Tinel's sign and Phalen's test in carpal tunnel syndrome. Orthopedics, 15,1297-1302.

Tinel's sign and Phalen's test are two provocative tests used in the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome. A review of the literature reveals a wide range of sensitivity for these tests. Analyzing the historical data and comparing these to the Tinel's sign and Phalen's test results of 100 individuals without carpal tunnel syndrome (200 wrists), we conclude that the Tinel's sign is not useful in the evaluation of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, whereas Phalen's test, which has a greater sensitivity and specificity, can be of use.


Levine, D.W., Simmons, B.P., Koris, M.J., Daltroy, L.H., Hohl, G.G., Fossel, A.H., & Katz, J.N. (1993). A self-administered questionnaire for the assessment of severity of symptoms and functional status in carpal tunnel syndrome. Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 75A, 1585-1592.

We developed a self-administered questionnaire for the assessment of severity of symptoms and functional status in patients who have carpal tunnel syndrome. The reproducibility, internal consistency, validity, and responsiveness to clinical change of scales for the measurement of severity of symptoms and functional status were evaluated in a clinical study. The scales were highly reproducible (Pearson correlation coefficient, r = 0.91 and 0.93 for severity of symptoms and functional status, respectively) and internally consistent (Cronbach alpha, 0.89 and 0.91 for severity of symptoms and functional status, respectively). Both scales had positive, but modest or weak, correlations with two-point discrimination and Semmes-Weinstein monofilament testing (Spearman coefficient, r = 0.12 to 0.42). In thirty-eight patients who were operated on in 1990 and were evaluated a median of fourteen months postoperatively, the mean symptom-severity score improved from 3.4 points preoperatively to 1.9 points at the latest follow-up examination, while the mean functional-status score improved from 3 to 2 points (5 points is the worst score and 1 point is the best score for each scale). Similar improvement was noted in twenty-six patients who were evaluated before and three months after the operation. We concluded that the scales for the measurement of severity of symptoms and functional status are reproducible, internally consistent, and responsive to clinical change, and that they measure dimensions of outcomes not captured by traditional measurements of impairment of the median nerve. These scales should enhance standardization of measurement of outcomes in studies of treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.


MacDermid, J., Kramer, J., Woodbury, G., McFarlane, R., & Evans, L. (1992). Inter-rater reliability, sensitivity and specificity of tests used in the clinical diagnosis of carpal tunnel. Journal Of Hand Therapy, 5, 47.

Connecticut Bioinstruments, Inc. (1997). WEST-hand. [On-line] Available: http://cbi-pace.com/cbi.htm#hand.


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