The Truth behind Carpal Tunnel Symptoms

by Justin Phillips, D.C.

On a daily basis, I see patients who are dealing with a certain degree of numbness or tingling into the hand and fingers. Most people will attribute these symptoms to CTS, or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The Mayo Clinic defines Carpal Tunnel as a hand and arm condition that causes numbness, tingling and other symptoms due to a pinched nerve in your wrist. What most people fail to realize, however, is that the nerve traveling through the Carpal Tunnel in your wrist travels through many different areas before it even gets to the wrist…………and all of these can pinch the nerve!

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Anatomy: Nerves of the Arm

Let’s begin with the path of the nerve that causes Carpal Tunnel symptoms. The actual nerve getting ‘pinched’ is called the Median Nerve. This nerve has roots that originate from spinal segments C5-C7; that is the 5th, 6th, and 7th bones in the neck. Next, these nerve roots, along with others, form the Brachial Plexus, a webbing of nerves that run from the neck, under the collarbone, and eventually becomes the 3 nerves that innervate the entire arm……….radial nerve, ulnar nerve, and median nerve. The median nerve then passes through the elbow joint and muscles of the arm before finally passing through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.

Possible Problem Areas

Now, let’s go through the path of the nerve and discover where problems can arise.

  • Neck
    • First, and foremost, issues in the neck effect the median nerve at the roots. Whiplash injuries, arthritis, degenerative disc disease, or just a loss of the cervical curve can all cause pinching of the nerves between C5-C7.
  • Shoulder
    • The brachial plexus travels directly underneath the collarbone. Many shoulder issues causes one shoulder to be lower than the other. This changes the angle of the collarbone and can put direct pressure on the brachial plexus.
  • Elbow
    • The median nerve travels through the elbow joint which is a common source of pain. Any elbow problems can also directly affect the nerve.
  • Wrist
    • Finally, the nerve passes through the wrist where there is a possibility of the nerve being pinched in the carpal tunnel.

Care for CTS Symptoms

It is best to first let your chiropractor evaluate the entire path of the median nerve to determine where the problem is occurring. Chiropractors not only correct misalignments in the spine, but are also thoroughly trained to adjust any joint of the body. Many times, the problem is occurring well before the wrist and a future surgery can be avoided. Carpal Tunnel surgery should always be used as a LAST RESORT. It is always better to first look to correct the problem naturally before considering drugs or surgery.