As more and more jobs require repetitive usage of computers or completing the same mechanical actions over and over, carpal tunnel syndrome is becoming increasingly common. Even though this condition may be caused through repetitive action and physical strain on specific areas of the body, there is another possible contributing factor that many overlook. Medical research has shown a strong association between carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as other repetitive strain injuries (RSI’s), and hypothyroidism. In order to better understand both these conditions and their link to one another it is important to have a healthy base of information.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
First and foremost, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is categorized as a repetitive strain injury (RSI) meaning it is aggravated by repeated trauma or overuse of the same muscle groups. Specifically, this condition is focused in the wrist joint. Simple activities such as repetitive grabbing or clenching of the hands and excessive typing can contribute to carpal tunnel. Repeated strain and exhaustion of the hand, wrist, or fingers can aggravate carpal tunnel and cause symptoms such as: pain, achiness, weakness, reduced grip strength, tingling, and numbness in the wrist, fingers, and forearm.
Of main concern for those experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome is the median nerve that runs through the wrist. This nerve is responsible for the relay of sensation and feeling between the fingers and the brain. The nerve traverses through a small hole near the wrist bone called the carpel tunnel. Pressure placed on this nerve is the primary cause of CTS and can be aggravated by a number of factors. The most common cause is pressure placed on the nerve due to swelling, irritation, and inflammation of surrounding tissues and membranes. This can lead to pinching of the median nerve which further aggravates CTS symptoms that may already be present. Although this condition may occur due to simple overuse and strain on the wrists and hands, research has shown that other health conditions, particularly hypothyroidism, can contribute to or even be the primary cause of CTS.
CTS and Hypothyroidism
As more studies are released demonstrating the link between thyroid health, particularly hypothyroidism, and CTS it is important to know what a healthy thyroid looks like. If one’s thyroid condition is left untreated, or treated incorrectly, it can lead directly to carpal tunnel syndrome. Hypothyroid patients often find themselves with CTS because those who have thyroid dysfunction tend to retain excess fluids in their connective tissues. Accumulation of musopolysaccarides, another common occurrence in hypothyroid patients, promotes swelling around the median nerve which increases pressure and compression of the carpal tunnel.
Unfortunately, as stated in a report by the Archives of Internal Medicine, published by the American Medical Association, many unknowingly have additional conditions, such as hypothyroidism, that may contribute to or cause CTS. For this reason, it is important to look for all possible contributing factors of CTS before deciding on a course of treatment. As stated in the article “Concurrent Medical Disease in Work-Related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,” one third of patients in the study were diagnosed with conditions, primarily hypothyroidism, as well as diabetes and joint diseases, that could have contributed or been the primary cause of their CTS.
If one experiences CTS symptoms, it is prudent to have their thyroid adequately tested before taking any drastic measures, such as surgery, for treating their condition. Having one’s thyroid tested should include a proper thyroid panel which, at the very minimum should test for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Free T4, Free T3, and Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPO). However, getting tests is only the first step.
Even if the levels of one’s thyroid panel are considered “normal” by one’s physician or fall within the “normal test range” they may not be optimal for the individual. Appropriate thyroid levels vary from person to person. Therefore, it is best to acquire the actual data and numbers from one’s physician to get a true gauge of one’s thyroid levels. Generally speaking, optimal thyroid levels include a TSH level below 2.0 and a Free T3 level near the high end of the reference range. Nevertheless, it is important to have specific treatment for one’s thyroid condition as optimal levels are unique to each individual.
Testing and Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Diagnosis of CTS often begins with patients reporting weakness and pain in their hands and wrists. Generally, a physician will conduct a hands-on examination inspecting for swelling and discoloration of the arms and hands. One common method for confirmation of CTS is to have the patient temporarily set their hands in typical CTS aggravating positions in order to briefly bring on symptoms and identify their connection to CTS. Additionally, nerve conduction velocity may be tested. This method gauges the speed in which electrical impulses traverse the carpal tunnel. Reduced impulse speeds suggest there is additional pressure on the median nerve causing CTS.
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome often includes:
- Eliminating repetitive stress triggers
- Night/daytime splints to immobilize the wrists, which reduces nerve compression
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (these are non-habit forming but can lead to leaky gut if taken in excess)
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation
Alternatively, there are treatments available that some studies have shown to temporarily relieve and ease symptoms associated with CTS. The following supplements and treatments may be a viable option for those experiencing great pain due to CTS.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Physical therapy/Chiropractic care
- Changing one’s office ergonomics
Even though there are many options for treating CTS it is important for those who have this condition to get their thyroid tested. For those who have hypothyroidism as well as CTS, treatment of their thyroid condition can completely resolve their aches, pains, and weakness in their wrists and hands. Although treating one’s thyroid condition may resolve CTS it can take a few months for symptoms to fade. After completion of one’s thyroid treatment it can be beneficial to utilize the non-invasive measures of CTS treatment listed above. By knowing more about both carpal tunnel syndrome and hypothyroidism one is better equipped to conquer both and return to a healthy balanced life.