Cortisone Shots for Carpal Tunnel

Do They Work?

carpal injection
An injection of cortisone can be an effective carpal tunnel treatment. RunPhoto / Getty Images

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling sensations of the hand and fingers. The cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is an irritation to one of the large nerves as it passes through the wrist joint. Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome depends on the type and duration of symptoms.

Cortisone Shots

Cortisone injections have long been used as a treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Recent studies have shown the effects of cortisone injections for carpal tunnel syndrome are as good as surgery for the first several months after the injection.

This is encouraging, as carpal tunnel syndrome is a common problem, and finding the best treatment for carpal tunnel can be difficult. Cortisone injections are not difficult to administer, and while there are potential side effects, they are generally considered safer than surgery.

As A Diagnostic Tool

Cortisone injections can be effectively used for carpal tunnel syndrome in a few situations.  First, when only temporary treatment is needed they are often effective.  Some people develop carpal tunnel syndrome for reasons that are likely to resolve with time.  In these situations, allowing for relief of the symptoms may allow the underlying problem to resolve.

Second, sometimes the question of the cause of numbness can linger even after tests and examinations.

  In these situations, performing an injection may be performed just as much to aid with the diagnosis as for treatment.  If the symptoms are relieved by the injection, this procedure can help to confirm the presence of carpal tunnel syndrome.  This is a step that your doctor may recommend if the cause of the symptoms is not entirely clear.

Bottom Line: Is It Worthwhile?

Cortisone injections are effective for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, but they are not a perfect treatment.  There are situations where pressure on the median nerve is too significant and may need more urgent relief by performing carpal tunnel surgery.

In milder cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, in situations that may resolve spontaneously and only temporary relief is needed, or in cases where the diagnosis is unclear, an injection of cortisone may be an effective way to address carpal tunnel syndrome.


Hui, ACF, et al. "A randomized controlled trial of surgery vs steroid injection for carpal tunnel syndrome" Neurology 2005;64:2074-2078.

Marshall, S, et al. "Local corticosteroid injection for carpal tunnel syndrome" Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(4):CD001554.