BACKGROUND: We undertook a literature review to produce evidence-based recommendations for nonsurgical family physician management of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). METHODS: Study design was systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on CTS treatment. Data sources were English publications from all relevant databases, hand searches, and guidelines. Outcomes measured were nonsurgical management options for CTS. RESULTS: We assessed 2 systematic reviews, 16 RCTs, and 1 before-and-after study using historical controls. A considerable percentage of CTS resolves spontaneously. There is strong evidence that local corticosteroid injections, and to a lesser extent oral corticosteroids, give short-term relief for CTS sufferers. There is limited evidence to indicate that splinting, laser-acupuncture, yoga, and therapeutic ultrasound may be effective in the short to medium term (up to 6 months). The evidence for nerve and tendon gliding exercises is even more tentative. The evidence does not support the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, diuretics, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), chiropractic treatment, or magnet treatment. CONCLUSIONS: For those who are not able to get surgery or for those who do not want surgery, there are some conservative modalities that can be tried. These modalities include ones for which there is good evidence. It would be reasonable to try some of the techniques with less evidence if the better ones are not successful. Reconsideration of surgery must always be kept in mind to avoid permanent nerve damage.