Would you believe me if I told you that the pain, numbness and tingling in your hands could be coming from your neck? In fact, when I have a new patient in my office complaining of these symptoms, I typically don’t even give an adjustment to these areas until I’ve adjusted the neck first. Sounds crazy, right? Well, here’s the explanation. Carpal tunnel syndrome is defined by Wikipedia as “… an entrapment median neuropathy, causing paresthesia, pain, numbness, and other symptoms in the distribution of the median nerve due to its compression at the wrist in the carpal tunnel”.
Entrapment means trapping or compression.
Median is referring to the median nerve (I’ll explain this later).
Neuropathy is a loss of nerve tone or function.
Paresthesia means tingling.
The carpal tunnel is literally a tunnel where the median nerve and the muscle tendons going to the hand pass through. There are a total of 9 tendons which join the median nerve in the tunnel.
The tunnel has rigid walls created by the transverse carpal ligament and the carpal (wrist) bones on the back of the wrist. The transverse carpal ligament is what creates the tunnel and is the part of the tunnel closest to the surface of the skin on the palm side of the wrist.
So, that being said, it seems obvious that the problem is still in the wrist, right? Well, follow me on this one. The median nerve is part of what is called the brachial (arm) plexus (group) of nerves. The brachial plexus begins at the neck where 5 nerves exiting your spinal cord at your neck join together. They then travel down the arm all the way to the hand. The median nerve travels through the carpal tunnel and is responsible for touch sensation to the palm side of the thumb, index, middle, and part of the ring fingers.
These particular nerves exit your spine at the level of the lower neck. Any trauma to the neck (car accident, slip and fall, sports injuries, etc.) can cause long lasting, chronic nerve compression or irritation. These injuries often cause of a loss of the natural curve of the neck. This narrows the opening in the spine where the nerves coming off of the spinal cord exit and go down the arm all the way to the hand.
When the nerves are irritated or compressed at the neck, the effects are often felt at the location furthest from the spinal cord, in this case the hand. In some cases, you may not have significant symptoms in your neck, only in your hands. This is why 1 person doing the same job as another may have problems, while another doesn’t. The worker with carpal tunnel likely has neck issues. This is also why some patients have a recurrence of symptoms after having carpal tunnel surgery. Because their problem was not in their wrist, it was at the source, at the neck. I like to compare this to a car with a bad front-end alignment. The symptom is tires that wear unevenly. You can replace the tires a hundred times, but it doesn’t ever get rid of the problem. Until you align the front end, you haven’t fixed the problem at its source.
Seeing your Chiropractor will get your neck in proper alignment. This will open up the paths for nerves exiting the spinal cord at the neck and help them to heal.