Can Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Cause Shoulder Pain?

When Carpal Tunnel Syndrome first develops, people notice that their fingers become numb at night.  The reason symptoms often first manifest at night is because the wrist is usually held in a flexed position in bed.  This causes fluid to accumulate around the wrist joint, exerting pressure on the median nerve which runs through the carpal tunnel, located in the wrist. Although Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is typically associated with hand and wrist pain, many sufferers experience a burning, searing or numbness running up the centre of the forearm and into the shoulder.  Some cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome resolve themselves, but others worsen over time and may require surgery.

What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Certain medical conditions may predispose you to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  For example, diabetes, arthritis, hypothyroidism and obesity can all make you more likely to develop the condition.  Almost half of all pregnant women report symptoms consistent with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which often disappear after birth. 

Some people are born with smaller carpal tunnels than others making them more susceptible. Some occupations increase the risk of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, including hairdressing, factory and assembly line work and seamstressing.

How Can Carpal Tunnel Syndrome be prevented?

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be triggered by working long hours at workstations that cause you to hold your wrists in an uncomfortable position. If the place you work has a human resources or occupational health department, ask about having your workstation ergonomically assessed.  It’s possible to buy wrist-rests and specialist keyboards which help to prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
  • Try to remember to sleep with your wrists straight.
  • Avoid activities which require you to flex and extend your wrists repeatedly.
  • Perform wrist strengthening exercises.

How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome diagnosed?

There are two main tests that are used for diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  They are called the Tinel and Phalen Manoeuvres.

The Tinel test involves tapping on the palm side of the wrist.  If positive, the test will produce a tingling sensation in the fingers. The Phalen Manoeuvre involves manipulating the wrist into a flexed position.  Again, the tingling sensation indicates a positive test.

In cases that have progressed, an electromyogram test and nerve conduction studies may be undertaken to establish the extent of nerve damage.  Electromyograms measure electrical activity in nerves and muscles whilst nerve conduction studies measure the ability of nerves to transmit electrical impulses. However, nerve damage may not show up on these tests until the nerve damage is significant. 

It’s also been found that the severity of symptoms doesn’t necessarily relate to the extent of nerve damage revealed on electromyograms and nerve conduction studies. Although many cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome go away on their own after a number of weeks or months, many cases require further treatment.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you should seek medical assistance.  If caught early, some cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may be successfully treated with exercises and lifestyle changes and surgery may be avoided.

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