Wrist pain is an extremely common complaint by many people because of the demands of our daily routines - working at a desk and computer, doing manual work with our hands, and just simply being on our phones for too long. I myself am no stranger to wrist pain as I took piano lessons for eleven years while simultaneously playing tennis competitively for five years through the end of high school. During my suffering, I quickly diagnosed myself as having carpal tunnel syndrome, which was an incorrect assumption that many people often make.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition characterized by pain, numbness, or tingling in the wrist during gripping, wrist movement or even just to the touch. It’s caused by compression of the median nerve by the transverse carpal ligament (below). Doctors may recommend splinting the wrist, a cortisone shot, or anti-inflammatory drugs. However, if symptoms worsen, doctors may perform a surgery cutting the transverse carpal ligament to free the entrapment of the nerve.
The unfortunate truth is that most of these surgeries end up destabilizing and weakening the wrist because of the newfound lack of structural support from the ligament - even worse, the initial pain is still there. So what went wrong? The problem is that the site of pain is oftentimes not the source of pain. In this case, there was only treatment and intervention at the site of pain, without consideration to the body as a whole.
Very commonly, carpal tunnel syndrome-like symptoms are actually because of upper thoracic outlet syndrome. This is another condition in which an individual may experience pain, numbness, or tingling anywhere in the hand, wrist, arm, elbow, shoulder, or neck. This happens as a result of a nerve entrapment in the brachial plexus, a clustered network of nerves in the neck and shoulder, or anywhere along its nerve pathway (below). Usually, soft tissue release or massage around the plexus or on muscles along the nerve pathway will relieve pain that even a carpal tunnel surgery cannot. These muscles may include the scalenes, pectoralis minor, biceps brachii, and the wrist flexors to name just a few of the possibilities.
Sometimes, a carpal tunnel surgery is needed because there may truly be excessive compression of the median nerve at the wrist that massage may not be able to fix. But in most cases, carpal tunnel syndrome is a misdiagnosis that ends up hurting the patient more than helping them. If you have symptoms of pain or discomfort in the wrist or anywhere in the body, be sure to seek multiple opinions and try treatment and healing modalities less severe and irreversible than surgery.