Is My Arm Pain Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Do you have pain in your arm close to the wrist area? Do you suspect it’s caused by performing repetitive tasks like typing, sewing, or assembly line work? If you answered yes to both these questions, there is a chance you are experiencing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).  Arm pain can be indicative of a number of problems, including but not limited to:

  • CTS
  • tendonitis
  • arthritis
  • bursitis
  • even a broken bone

However, CTS causes acute discomfort that radiates from the tip of the finger all the way up to the shoulder joint.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The median nerve, which runs down the forearm into the palm of the hand, can become compressed, irritated or inflamed through repetitive motion.  When this nerve is restricted through pressure, a sensation of burning, tingling, numbness or weakness can become present in the forearm and hand.

The Carpal Tunnel is a narrow pass of ligaments and bones located at the base of the hand. The median nerve, which originates above the elbow joint, is responsible for sending feeling to the palm of the hand and the area between the thumb and first four fingers. Through repetitive motion, the ligaments and tendons in the forearm and wrist can become inflamed. This causes a narrowing of the Carpal Tunnel and places stress on the median nerve. The resulting sensation is pain, numbness, and weakness in the hand and fingers.

What Causes Arm Pain Associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

CTS isn’t nerve damage so much as irritation surrounding the nerve. This irritation causes swelling and inflammation, which the body perceives as pain. The irritation can be caused by injury to the wrist, particularly the area though which the median nerve passes, a structural problem with the wrist or hand, arthritis, and repetitive use. Some medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and thyroid gland issues have also been found to be associated with CTS.

Many times arm pain can be mistaken as CTS. Other forms of arm pain can mimic the symptoms that one gets from true Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, especially cervicogenic arm pain (or stemming from the neck). With the complexity of the brachial plexus, irritation of the the spinal nerve roots at several levels of the cervical spinal cord can be at the root cause of median nerve pain. Put simply, there are three nerves that originate from the neck, and one of those nerves is the median nerve. It is not uncommon for patients to be misdiagnosed with CTS when in actuality they have a neck problem.

Who Gets Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Women are more likely than men to suffer from CTS. People with metabolic disorders and diabetes are also at greater risk because of the manner in which these diseases impact nerves in the body. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is seen almost exclusively in adults. Patients who suffer from autoimmune diseases and are at risk for inflammation in the joints are also more likely to be diagnosed.

People with misalignment of the cervical spine or degenerative discs in the neck will frequently develop arm pain of various types, including pain of the median nerve.

How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Related Arm Pain Treated?

As soon as pain begins, you should seek out medical care, as the symptoms will only become worse over time without treatment. Initially, something to reduce inflammation is typically recommended. A course of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Advil or Motrin or a supplement like curcumin may be prescribed.  The affected wrist is typically splinted to restrict movement and aid in resting the nerves and ligaments. In some cases, doctors will discuss injections of corticosteroids to relieve pain. These treatments can provide relief, but they are not a cure.

If the diagnosis is a result of an inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, treatment of the disease may supersede treatment of CTS.

Can Carpal Tunnel Arm Pain Be Cured?

Some patients may require surgery to alleviate the arm pain associated with CTS. When surgery is performed, the goal is to make the carpal tunnel passage larger and to relieve pressure on the affected nerve.  Surgery can be performed via a less invasive endoscopic procedure or through a full incision in the hand and wrist area.

Both types of surgeries carry risk of infection, nerve damage, and lack of success. Also, surgery can be as debilitating as the syndrome itself.

Alternative therapies may provide relief. These alternative therapies include acupuncture, massage therapy, mayo-facial release technique, ultrasound therapy and physical therapy.  In some cases, herbal or nutritional support may help reduce inflammation and alleviate nerve pain.

If the median nerve pain stems from a problem in the neck, then chiropractic treatment may hold the solution. Structural correction of a neck misalignment can allow the nerves exiting the neck to heal. If, however, there is significant damage to the structure of the neck – such as severe degenerative arthritis – a neurosurgeon may need to be consulted.

Can Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Be Prevented?

While some people may be at a higher risk because of pre-existing health or medical issues, preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is possible. Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks, change positions, and use corrective devises such as cushions or supports that reduce pressure on the median nerve. Maintain a healthy lifestyle to lower the likelihood of developing diabetes, risk of injury, and promote overall health can also reduce the risk of developing CTS.

If you experience symptoms that are acute or worsen over time, contact your medical practitioner and discuss any signs or symptoms that are causing pain in your arm, wrist or hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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