Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when the median nerve is compressed at the wrist. However, there are other anatomical locations in which the median nerve can experience interference, and the median nerve is not the only nerve that ventures into the hand. So if you experience a symptom like hand numbness, CTS may not be the culprit…
After CTS, the next most common nerve pinch is the ulnar nerve at the inner elbow, which is technically called “cubital tunnel syndrome” (CuTS). This is often caused from over-use of the arm such as lifting and/or gripping with the palm up. The unique difference between CuTS and CTS is that the pinky and ring finger are affected but NOT the index, middle, and thumb-side ring finger, which are the median nerve-innervated fingers affected by CTS. Because over-use is also a common cause of CTS, these two conditions can co-exist, in which case all five fingers may be affected but not necessary all at the same time.
The shoulder is yet another fairly common location for a pinched nerve and is referred to as “thoracic outlet syndrome” (TOS). The most common nerve pinched here affects the fourth and fifth fingers, similar to CuTS; however, with TOS the upper arm is also affected, not just the elbow to the inner hand.
Another relatively common location for a pinched nerve affecting the arm is at the neck, often from a herniated disk and/or an arthritic spur where the nerve exits the spine. Depending on which nerve is compressed and the amount of compression, the numbness/tingling can affect different parts of the arm and/or hand.
Doctors of chiropractic are trained to differentiate between these various “syndromes” and to safely deliver treatment to the affected joints, muscles, and other soft tissues to reduce pain and restore proper motion so patients can return to their normal activities of daily living.