It seems that everyone who complains of wrist pain these days is diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Of all the “catch-all” diagnoses I’ve seen in my years as an acupuncturist, this is the one I see the most frequently, and it is often an incorrect diagnosis.
How do you know if you have carpal tunnel syndrome?
Do you have wrist pain? If so, where is the pain? If it is on the back side of the wrist, it is not carpal tunnel syndrome. If it is on the little finger side of the hand, it is not carpal tunnel syndrome.
Do you have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hand? If so, which fingers are affected? If it is the little finger and ring finger, it is not carpal tunnel syndrome. Does the palm tingle? If so, it may be carpal tunnel syndrome, but that is probably not the only issue.
The radial, medial, and ulnar nerves travel to the hand, and any of these nerves can be compressed or injured leading to similar symptoms. Nerve compression can be in the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, or neck, and it is sometimes challenging to figure out the root of the problem. Often, a few simple orthopedic tests can quickly tell you whether the symptom originates in the hand or is coming from somewhere else.
Here’s a case example: a patient comes in to the office saying he has carpal tunnel syndrome. When asked to describe his symtpoms, he says he has numbness and tingling in the small finger and ring finger of both hands. He complains about occasional tenderness and local discomfort at the wrist crease on the palm side of the wrist.
On examination, the standard tests for carpal tunnel syndrome do not cause an increase in this gentleman’s symptoms, but steady pressure on the top of his head does. Additionally, he has extremely tight forearm muscles, and pressure on the tightest points causes the numbness in his hands to increase.
This gentleman’s symptoms are being caused by nerve compression in his neck – specifically where his neck met his torso. The condition is exacerbated by tight forearm muscles which add nerve compression in another location further down the nerve pathway. While he does have mild carpal tunnel symptoms (the tenderness at the wrist crease), the majority of his symptoms are caused by other conditions. A series of acupuncture treatments which addressed his neck, forearms, and wrists led to 85% resolution of his pain, numbness and tingling.
In allopathic medicine, carpal tunnel syndrome is treated with physical therapy, night time splinting, cortisone injections, and surgery. I have seen countless people who have had surgery only to find their symptoms do not go away or become even worse. If the problem is not actually in the carpal tunnel, carpal tunnel release surgery cannot fix the problem!
If you or someone you know is having wrist pain, please come in for an evaluation and a course of acupuncture treatment. If it truly is carpal tunnel syndrome and would benefit from a surgical approach, we’ll know within 10 visits. If it is not carpal tunnel syndrome, this treatment can save you from unnecessary surgery. In my clinical experience, only about 10% of the people who come to me believing they have carpal tunnel syndrome actually do. It is one of the most frequent misdiagnoses I see. What do you have to lose?