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Hypothyroidism and Carpal Tunnel

pain in the joints of the hands. carpal tunnel syndrome. black and white photo with red dot

Working today means going through a regular schedule set for day-to-day life with the continuous use of smartphones and computers. As a result, a certain condition called carpal tunnel syndrome has become very common.

There are several reasons due to which this problem might occur – physical strain, repetitive actions in certain areas of the body, etc. But, there is one potential contributing factor that most people tend to overlook.

Several medical studies have suggested that repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel have a strong association with hypothyroidism.

In short, hypothyroidism is a condition that takes place when the thyroid gland does not produce sufficient quantities of thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of your neck, which regulates the metabolism and many other vital processes in the body.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where pressure on the median nerve causes uncomfortable weakness, tingling, numbness, or pain in the forearm, wrist, fingers, or hands.

The median nerve goes through a tunnel called the carpal tunnel, or the wrist bone, due to which you feel sensation in the fingers.

But, when pressure is applied, it will result in irritation or swelling of the median nerve. This causes weakness, burning, tingling, and pain in areas of your hand like fingers, forearms, etc.

What is the connection between carpal tunnel syndrome and hypothyroidism?

An unhealthy thyroid can lead to several complications like carpal tunnel syndrome, along with many other problems if left untreated. Often, most hypothyroid patients experience carpal tunnel syndrome because they tend to retain excess fluids in their connective tissues.

Another common issue that occurs in hypothyroid patients is the accumulation of mucinous substances. This is a condition where the area around the median nerve swells, thereby increasing compression and pressure of the carpal tunnel, according to the study linked.

Other problems among thyroid patients, like excess body weight or water retention, can also be reasons for creating median nerve compression. The more Body Mass Index (BMI) or TSH you have, the higher is the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome start gradually. Some early symptoms of this syndrome include tingling or numbness in your fingers. This syndrome also causes great discomfort in the palm and wrist of your hand.

You may experience abnormal sensation, weakness, pain, and numbness in the areas of your hand and wrist due to pressure on the median nerve. The sensation feels like an electric shock on your fingers.

This symptom might also travel up to your wrist and arm. It commonly occurs while talking on the phone or steering the wheel of your car. It might also wake you up from sleep. You can try to relieve yourself from these symptoms temporarily by shaking your hand vigorously.

You might also feel some weakness in your hands. You will have a tendency to drop things. This happens because of the weak and numb feeling your hand is experiencing. Your thumb also gets weak due to this, thus making you drop things that you are carrying.

Diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome

Patients with carpal tunnel syndrome often complain about pain and weakness in their wrists and hands. Normally, a doctor conducts a hands-on inspection for discoloration or swelling on the parts of your hands.  The physician may also check and enquire about your other health problems, like diabetes, arthritis, pregnancy, or recent pain in any part of your hand.

The doctor will perform a physical examination on you to check the external appearance and strength of your hands, wrists, shoulders, arms, and neck. You might also need to go through some tests like nerve conduction and nerve function studies or blood tests.

The doctor might also get your thyroid checked first since hypothyroidism is also one of the causes for carpal tunnel syndrome. Treating thyroid conditions might improve weakness and pain in the hands and wrists.

Treating the thyroid condition can help you get rid of the carpal tunnel syndrome but it might take some months for its symptoms to disappear.

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome

After diagnosing positive for carpal tunnel syndrome, the physician will treat you by:

  • Making you wear wrist braces; these braces optimize the wrist joint position, thereby reducing nerve compression
  • Providing anti-inflammatory drugs to minimize swelling
  • Asking you to change your office ergonomics
  • Injecting you with cortisone or thyroid drugs
  • Suggesting acupuncture, yogic, and osteopathic treatments for further treatment

Final thoughts

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome in its early stages with physical therapy and lifestyle changes can lead to long-term improvements and eliminate symptoms. Although this symptom is non-fatal in nature, not getting it checked and leaving it untreated can lead to a permanent loss of hand function, disability, and nerve damage. Hence, on the sight of the first symptom, get it checked!

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