Repetitive Strain Injuries-Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is Commonly Misdiagnosed as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is Commonly Misdiagnosed as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

A common condition that causes numbness or tingling sensations in the hand is known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).  The condition is severely overlooked by many health care practitioners, which may lead to misdiagnosis.  Thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition involving the shoulder and/or muscles on the side of the neck, however most symptoms involve the arm, hand and fingers.

Over the past two decades, the media has done quite a job at exposing carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).  Since 1997, I have treated thousands of patients with hand pain and most were convinced they suffered with CTS; however there were many that did NOT have CTS but had thoracic outlet syndrome instead.  There are numerous other conditions that mimic the symptoms of CTS.  Unfortunately, most misdiagnosed cases lead to inappropriate and ineffective treatments.

Let me give you a simple explanation of how the arm works.

There is a bundle of nerves that exits the cervical spine (the neck) and passes through the shoulder and runs the entire way down to the hand and fingers.  These nerves supply the function to the muscles and skin of the arm and hand.  As these nerves pass from the spine and down through the shoulder area they pass through and between several layers of muscles.  Due to the shoulder being such a dynamic joint with a broad range of motion, it can easily become misaligned from repetitive stress and all the rigors of life.  When the shoulder joints become misaligned the muscles are pulled on and respond by tightening up.  The nerves passing through this area become irritated and pinched due to the misalignment and constriction from the muscles.  This constriction and misalignment causes tingling, numbness or a “falling asleep” sensation in the hand and fingers.

There are two distinct differences between carpal tunnel syndrome and thoracic outlet syndrome that will allow you or your doctor to differentiate.  Carpal tunnel syndrome causes numbness or tingling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of the ring finger.  Thoracic outlet syndrome produces numbness or tingling in the pinky finger and the other half of the ring finger.

Furthermore if you are suffering with thoracic outlet syndrome you may notice an increase in your hand symptoms if you raise the affected arm overhead.  Lifting the arm up above the shoulder places extra stress on the involved nerves which may cause an increase in the amount of numbness or tingling into the hand.  With proper chiropractic care and myofascial release technique, a person suffering with thoracic outlet syndrome can relieve their symptoms and return to a normal life without pain.

© Robert J. Fenell, D.C.

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