Carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition where pressure on the median nerve causes pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand, fingers, wrist, and forearm, is a common complaint. Some hypothyroidism patients struggle with carpal tunnel syndrome, but don't realize that there is a key connection between this painful nerve problem and their thyroid function.
Similarly, many carpal tunnel syndrome sufferers aren’t aware that it can be a symptom of an underactive thyroid, and that the symptoms may resolve with proper treatment.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The median nerve goes through a tunnel near the wrist bone (the carpal tunnel), allowing for sensation in the fingers. When there is pressure, swelling or irritation of the median nerve, or inflammation is causing pressure to the area, you can experience pain, tingling, burning, numbness and weakness in the thumb, index finger, middle fingers, wrist, and forearm, as well as decreased grip strength.
Some cases of carpal tunnel syndrome may be due to repetitive strain, but there are also a variety of health conditions — including hypothyroidism – that can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is typically diagnosed by a hands-on examination to rule out other conditions, as well as clinical signs of the condition, which can include swelling and discoloration. A practitioner may manipulate the hand to reproduce carpal tunnel syndrome-suggestive hand positions that generate tingling or symptoms. A nerve conduction velocity test may sometimes be conducted to measure the speed of electrical impulses as they pass through the carpal tunnel. A slowdown of the impulse can be a sign of the condition.
Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Treating carpal tunnel syndrome involves the following:
- eliminating repetitive stress movement triggers when present
- night splints to immobilize the wrist
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation
Some studies have also found benefits to Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), prolotherapy, acupuncture, acupressure, exercise, physical therapy, and yoga for carpal tunnel syndrome.
What About the Thyroid?
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a symptom of untreated — or inadequate treatment of — hypothyroidism.
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome and have not had your thyroid evaluated, start out by asking the doctor for a thyroid panel, especially before you consider an invasive treatment like surgery. A panel should include Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Free T4, Free T3, and Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPO) at minimum. Keep in mind that “your tests were normal” is not enough information from your doctor. Ask for actual numbers, and know that optimal thyroid levels are typically a TSH level below 2.0, and Free T3 in the higher end of the reference range.
If you are being treated for hypothyroidism but still experiencing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that is not related to repetitive strain, make sure that your treatment is optimized.