This article is based on my medical research to understand my experience with this health condition and share the knowledge with others.
The Beginning Stages of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
For many years, my left hand occasionally became numb when I slept. I even had experiences of waking up with my hand completely limp. However, as soon as I moved my body, the numbness and limpness dissipated. I was quickly able to move my hand and fingers again.
A neurologist recommended a wrist brace that I could buy in a drug store without a prescription. It seemed to help, but only when I slept on my back, which I tended to do when wearing the brace.
A Nerve Conduction Study by a Neurologist
Six years later, the condition got worse and my doctor sent me to a hand specialist.
He did a nerve conduction study, which involved sending electrical impulses through my nerves. That test measured how fast the impulses passed through my median nerve to my brain and back again.1
According to the doctor, the results of that study indicated I had carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand and that I should have surgery to fix it before it got worse.
Carpal Tunnel and the Median Nerve
The median nerve goes from the hand to the brain by passing through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.
When the ligaments around the wrist are inflamed from stress, they squeeze the carpal tunnel. That pressure disturbs the nerves, causing numbness and pain. I never had pain, but my hand would get numb.
I learned later that many other health conditions could mimic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and I'll talk about that later in this article.
The Reason for Surgery
My doctor said that if I didn’t have it fixed, each time my hand got numb, the nerves might die a little, and eventually, they may never recover.
That convinced me, and I had surgery. It involved making a small incision and cutting the ligament that was putting pressure on the carpal tunnel.
The surgery was done as an outpatient procedure in the hospital. But since I was put to sleep, they required that someone drive me home afterward.
Recovery After the Carpal Tunnel Surgery
I was sent home with a huge pillow contraption that I used to prop my hand up while I slept. I had to sleep on my back for a week, with my hand on top of that pillow.
Other than that, I was back to normal immediately and went about my daily routines. Luckily, I am right-handed, and since the surgery was with my left hand, it didn’t interfere with my ability to continue doing everything.
A few weeks later, I had the stitches removed, and everything was fine. It couldn’t have gone any better or have been any easier. The numbness occurred very rarely after the surgery.
However, almost two years later, I started having numbness quite regularly in the middle of the night. My doctor mentioned that carpal tunnel could reoccur if I continue to irritate my wrist, but I never really knew what I had done to aggravate it.
Yes, I indeed type a lot. I use my right hand to control the mouse, which puts pressure on the wrist while holding it in an unusual way. However, it’s my left hand that had the problem!
Read More From Patientslounge
How Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Can Be Misdiagnosed
Almost two years after the surgery, something else happened that changed the entire diagnosis!
I injured my shoulder and had pain due to a torn rotator cuff. Not knowing what was causing the pain, my doctor sent me to an orthopedist.
The orthopedist explained that nerve compression in the neck could cause radiating symptoms into the shoulder, so to make a proper diagnosis, he ordered an MRI of my cervical spine, which is the top of the spine in the neck.
The MRI showed that I had three herniated discs! That is also known as prolapsed or slipped discs.2
That might have been caused by years of working at the computer, reading on the screen while leaning forward, and bending my head up. Not to mention crimping the phone between my neck and shoulder when I talk to clients.
A Different Diagnosis, Cervical Radiculopathy
When my family doctor read the clinical report of the MRI, he told me that the nerves in my neck that the herniated discs were pressing against might have caused my hand to get numb. He said that it’s possible I may never have had carpal tunnel syndrome.
A herniated disc in the C6 or C7 nerve roots of the cervical spine can pinch the nerves leading to the median nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel. But my hand doctor never examined that.
It’s a condition known as Cervical Radiculopathy. It’s described by WebMD as pain or loss of sensation along the nerve path into the arm and hand caused by compressed cervical vertebrae.3
Well, that explains why the numbness started reoccurring after the surgery.
I asked my doctor why it got better initially if it was my neck causing the problem. He asked me if I was sleeping differently since then. I slept with a huge pillow that they gave me after the surgery to hold my hand up while sleeping. That got me accustomed to sleeping on my back, and I continued sleeping that way ever since.
Sleeping on my back with my head on a decent pillow, kept my neck in the proper position without putting stress on my cervical spine. That kept the nerves in my neck from being squashed by the herniated discs. It probably helped keep the condition from getting worse.
My doctor said that sleeping that way, with the proper use of the pillow under my head, might eventually allow the discs in my neck to move back into position. I can feel that this is happening since I never have the numbness in my hand when I am kind to my neck.
The Problem With Specialists
If a doctor only considers the problem to be associated with his or her specialty, they may not make a correct diagnosis. Only a comprehensive neurological evaluation will help determine the actual cause of numbness in one's hand.
My hand doctor never considered that my hand numbness might be related to a herniated disc in my cervical spine.
I learned from that experience that one should not trust the opinion of a specialist without having a general doctor review the case. Have all the reports sent to your primary doctor. He or she can analyze the entire situation and recommend other possibilities.
Over 70% of Patients Receive an Incorrect Diagnosis
According to Daniel Miller, a specialist in disability management and workers’ compensation managed care, over 70% of patients receive an incorrect diagnosis.4
Mr. Miller explains that surgeons tend to treat the case as if only one nerve is involved, which is extremely rare. Many other medical conditions can be associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. As in my case, it turned out to be a cervical condition in my neck.
The following lists show you how confusing the situation can be for proper diagnosis. This list is from the same article by Mr. Miller that I mentioned above and linked in the references.
Conditions That Complicate CTS Diagnosis
- Recreational sports
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Playing musical instruments
- Incorrect sleeping positions
Conditions That Mimic CTS
- Tendonitis, bursitis, and gout.
- Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
- Thoracic outlet syndrome.
- Myofacial trigger points.
- Neck, shoulder, back and cervical conditions.
How to Ease Neck Herniated Disc Problems
The problem is that the herniated discs push against the spinal cord, and the pressure can interfere with the nerves running through the spine. Therefore, it should be treated to avoid further damage.
Treatment is sometimes as simple as changing behavior. Examples of behavior changes include modifying my sitting position and sleeping with correctly sized pillows under my head.
I needed to raise my office chair (it’s adjustable), and I lowered the monitor, so I don’t look up as I look at the computer screen. That helped correct my sitting posture, so I don't crimp my neck by bending it back.
Maintaining proper posture while sitting or standing is very important to avoid disc compression.
I have always stood erect with a good posture, but working at my computer is another thing altogether. I spent decades working on the computer without giving any thought to my cervical spine.
I also was told to sleep on my back with a pillow under my head. That helps keep my head from falling back.
My experience gave me two important lessons.
- We must take care of our necks. Every nerve that connects your brain to the rest of your body runs through your neck, and it's easy to develop problems as we age with compressed cervical vertebrae that interfere with the nerves.
- In addition, it's always helpful to get a second opinion on any medical diagnosis.
- "Nerve Conduction Studies." (Retrieved April 2021). Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Richard Staehler, MD. (July 18,2019). "Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms and Treatment Options." Spine-Health.com
- Brunilda Nazario, MD. (September 24, 2020). "Cervical Radiculopathy" WebMD
- Daniel R. Miller. (March 6, 2014). "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: It's Time to Explode the Myth" InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Glenn Stok
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 25, 2018:
Jean, That's only assuming you have the same case I had. Based on your prior comment, that hasn't been determined yet. Only an MRI of your cervical spine will show if you have herniated discs in your neck.
Jean Bakula from New Jersey on April 25, 2018:
I will definitely bring this up at my next chiropractor appointment. He's the one I trust the most and the best diagnostician. I had surgeries and procedures for the scoliosis, but in childhood and teen years, so it's a matter of maintenance without pain meds as much as possible. But my chiropractor always adjusts my neck too. Maybe there is a different adjustment he can do.Great food for thought.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 25, 2018:
Jean, I have two sides of the story to answer your question. As I mentioned in this article, my hand doctor gave a wrong diagnoses as my primary doctor later discovered.
But you can’t blame him. I was told that if you do have a tight carpal tunnel that is squeezing the nerves, there is a chance that the nerves will eventually die if the pressure is not elliviated. So the condition of numbness can get worse or even become permanent if not treated.
However, in my case it was due to nerves in my neck. My hand specialist never considered looking in other places, but I can’t say that would be true for all specialists. So it’s hard to say if one can trust any particular doctor.
In my opinion it can be helpful to have the specialist report to your primary doctor who can view the entire situation based on your overall health and condition.
Jean Bakula from New Jersey on April 24, 2018:
I have numbness in my right hand, mostly the index and middle finger. I also had that electrical test and the Dr. told me I should get the carpal tunnel surgery ASAP. This was two years ago.
I researched the surgery, and found it doesn't always help, in fact, it only helps in a small percentage of people. Also, I am left handed, so it's not even my dominant hand, though my Dr. said many people are getting ambidextrous in our tech dominated world.
I have scoliosis, and never thought to connect that before I read this. My chiropractor is aware I type often and that I have an issue with the hand, so he works on it and that, plus the night brace, keep it better. So I am not going for surgery anytime soon! But I wonder how many others are being misled by doctors they trust?
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 27, 2017:
Heidi - Sounds like you had a good Chiropractor who understood the issue well. I'm glad you resolved your problem with the right care. Thanks for commenting about your experience.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on May 27, 2017:
I can relate! I've had neck issues for years and occasionally experience what you did. Working on it from the neck aspect before addressing it as carpal tunnel, thanks to chiropractic care. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on December 30, 2015:
brakel2- Yes Audrey, it is important to go to the right physician. Unfortunately, the wrong one will not see the real problem since they are focused on only their own profession. That's what's so sad about the condition of healthcare today. We really need to do our own research and verify that our doctor is doing the right thing. Good to see you around, Audrey. Take care of your neck problems.
Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on December 30, 2015:
Hi Glenn - This article interests me, as I have problems similar to yours. I also have a problem in my neck with a misaligned joint, and I do exercises. Thank you for your article with the information on the carpal tunnel and other problems. It makes me realize to get to the correct physician and have correct posture. Sharing Blessings, Audrey
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 13, 2013:
Lorrie - I hope you went to see a spine specialist as your doctor had suggested. Since your Carpal Tunnel came back after surgery, it's possible that the problem is in your neck - as was the case with me. Try sleeping on your back with your head propped up on a thick pillow. That worked for me. No more numbness anywhere as long as I do that.
Lorrie on February 14, 2013:
When I went to have my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome corrected the surgeon said" No"
It was stemming from the neck and see a spine surgeon.
I did have the surgery. But it came back.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 24, 2012:
(I'm reposting this comment with typo corrections)
The problem is that doctors today are specialists. They specialize in one thing and they know very little about anything else.
In my case, my hand doctor, who said I had Carpal Tunnel, never understood a thing about what might be happening in my neck. He never considered that my wrist problems might be related to a herniated disc in my cervical spine.
As I mentioned in my article, I found out about my herniated discs much later from an MRI that my orthopedist did. So you might want to discuss with your doctor what he or she thinks about that.
In the meantime you might want to try sleeping on your back with a thick pillow under your head. That's what my orthopedist told me to do, and it helped.
I was starting to have numbness in my feet in the middle of the night. Sleeping with a think pillow, holding my head up slightly, solved that problem since it kept the herniated discs in my neck from putting pressure on the nerves.
So talk to your doctor about it. I hope you find the solution and the reason for your pain. Thanks for stopping by and reading my article.
Kalux from Canada on August 29, 2012:
I will be bringing this up to my doctor for sure, I find this very interesting. I will also try to sleep to sleep on my back with a thicker pillow, I imagine that might be beneficial for a number of reasons since I have a habit of sleeping on my stomach with my head twisted sideways. This may just be the most helpful to my real life hub that I've read :) (Including your reply which is appreciated!) Thanks so much.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on March 16, 2012:
Yes I keep it under control now that I found out it wasn't Carpal Tunnel after all, as I explained in this Hub. I just need to keep my head straight so I don't pinch my neck.
When you work from your recliner, take some breaks and stand up and walk around once in a while. That might help. Thanks for stopping by.
Pamela N Red from Oklahoma on March 16, 2012:
The things we do to our bodies while writing. I have a laptop and sometimes work in the living room in my recliner instead of at my office. Moving from place to place helps but that mouse or trackpad in my case can still cause our hands to be in a cramped position. I hope you are better now, pain or numbness either one is no fun.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on February 15, 2012:
jenubouka ~ I would recommend you go to your doctor and explain your symptoms and your concerns. Thanks for reading.
Brainy Bunny ~ There can be so many other causes of symptoms for just about anything. That’s why it's so important to see the right doctor. Even to get second opinions. I'm glad you found the true cause of your pain without requiring surgery.
Spirit Whisperer ~ I'm glad you enjoyed my story. You had an interesting analogy for it. Thanks for sharing it on Twitter and Facebook. Much appreciated.
Xavier Nathan from Isle of Man on February 15, 2012:
I thoroughly enjoyed your story and have also shared it on Twitter and Facebook.
This is also a very good example of how we are hypnotised by people we perceive as authority figures and how so many problems are caused by their suggestions which are accepted by the subconscious.
People spend most of their time in the state of hypnosis going about their daily loves on auto-pilot and very rarely questioning their experiences especially when being told what to do by those in authority. Thank you for a great hub.
Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on February 14, 2012:
I experienced carpal tunnel syndrome when I was pregnant, so when I had a similar problem at another time I figured it was recurring. It would come and go, and eventually it got so annoying that I went to a new doctor and found out I actually had tendinitis of the wrist! Turns out the treatment was similar (wrist brace, Tylenol) but the prognosis was much better (no nerve death -- hooray!). I'm glad that you finally got a correct diagnosis and relief, too. Pain in the wrists is no fun, and it makes life very hard for people who sit at a computer all day.