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Today we’re going to talk about carpal tunnel syndrome – exactly what it is, and from our point of view how we would distinguish if the patient has true carpal tunnel syndrome, or if it’s actually more of an issue stemming from the patient’s neck. So what is carpal tunnel syndrome? It’s a painful condition, and occurs when a major nerve in the hand, called the median nerve, becomes squeezed or compressed on its way to the wrist. Often symptoms can be very similar to that of nerve compression in the neck, as carpal tunnel syndrome can cause aching and pain in the fingers, hand or arm, numbness, tingling, pins & needles sensations or weakness.

Carpal tunnel syndrome has a wide number of causes, it can occur due to the nature of your occupation. Often people who have jobs involving frequent bending of your wrist, using tools that vibrate or instrument playing, can all contribute to you experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also be a hereditary, so you may be more likely to get it if a parent has experienced it, or a sibling has it. It’s also common to occur in conjunction with other illnesses or diseases – such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction or rheumatoid arthritis. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel can be more troublesome to treat. This is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and swelling in your joints – often affecting extremity areas like the hands and feet. As an autoimmune disease, it tends to affect areas that have a lot of synovial fluid – the liquid that helps cushion and lubricate your joints. By attacking the membrane that produces the synovial fluid, it causes a build-up and accumulation of fluid – which causes pain and swelling. The wrist is an area that contains a lot of synovial fluid, as your tendons weave through the wrist. Being an autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis is not something we can unfortunately help with because it’s not as simple as a mechanical issue.

Symptoms that mimic numbness, pins & needles or burning sensations, our first port of call would be to see if it’s related to the neck. If the pain jumps from one arm to the other, or you’re experiencing it in both hands at the same time – it’s very unlikely to be carpal tunnel syndrome affecting both hands. Carpal tunnel symptoms don’t switch hands, and it’s very rare that you would have it affecting both hands at the same time, so this is where we would look at the neck. If you’re spending a lot of time working on a keyboard, using a mouse or sat a desk, then you might well get rubbing in the carpal tunnel that can create inflammation due to a repetitive stress injury.

If it is mechanical irritation, we can do some treatment in the arm and hand to decrease the inflammation, as well as on the muscles of the forearm to loosen them up so they’re not pulling on the tendon as much. This should provide you with some symptomatic relief. Often when patients come in to see us who might be suffering with carpal tunnel-like pain, their primary problem is back pain but mention the carpal tunnel as an afterthought – so it is something we can look into to see if it is actually carpal tunnel or if it’s related to their neck alignment.

If you do have carpal tunnel, or you having the classic symptoms of carpal tunnel – the first thing you’ll want to ask yourself is, do you have rheumatoid arthritis, or some sort of autoimmune pathology that might mean it cannot be treated by a clinic like us? If the answer is yes, you may need to find someone who can point you in the right direction, or medication to deal with the problem. You can also try to use ice as a method to get control over the inflammatory flare ups. Place an ice-pack (covered by a towel) on the area for around five minutes at a time, or repeatedly throughout the day to calm the inflammation down. If you do have rheumatoid arthritis, it will likely be a case of managing the condition as opposed to resolving it. If it’s mechanical irritation and you do work at a desk, it might be worth looking at your desk set-up to make sure you’re not constantly rubbing the region. Taking a break and getting some treatment to the region to reduce the inflammation, and decrease the tension on the muscles so your body can heal effectively will be beneficial. Combined with the modification of your work set-up, this can work quite well. If you find that doesn’t work, find someone to actually assess your neck to see if there’s some nerve irritation in the bottom joints of your neck, possibly from long-term bad posture or a previous injury such as whiplash, which is sending symptoms down to the arm and wrist area. Most importantly, if you’ve been diagnosed with carpal tunnel, but you find that the problem is now affecting both hands or switching between hands, do make sure it’s not been a misdiagnosis. Much like sciatica in the lower back, these sorts of nerve related issues are commonly misdiagnosed as other conditions, which can make treatment ineffective. It doesn’t help you as a patient, and is likely just giving the problem a label without proper investigation.

We hope you’ve found this article helpful, and now understand exactly what’s causing the problem. If you’re confused as to whether the symptoms you’re experiencing are carpal tunnel, or something else, make sure you make an appointment with a qualified practitioner to get to the bottom of the problem. If you have any questions about your condition or symptoms, please feel free to reach out to us, either on our social channels, by calling us on 0203 947 3222 or emailing us at info@themayfairclinic.com.

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