Being a practicing surgeon in the Information Age is really a mixed blessing. On the one hand, patients are more informed than ever, sometimes to the point of having heard about new treatments even before I have. On the other, an equal number of patients attempt self-diagnosis, often incorrectly, based on unreliable Internet sources. This seems to be particularly common in carpal tunnel treatment; vague wrist pain is so prevalent that many men and women jump to the conclusion that they must have carpal tunnel syndrome. In reality, there are several other conditions that share symptoms similar to CTS.
The cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the median nerve as it travels through the narrow carpal tunnel in the wrist. This compression can cause persistent pain, muscle weakness and paresthesia. However, nerve compression doesn’t have to occur only in the carpal tunnel, or only to the median nerve; the same symptoms of numbness, tingling and pain could still be present even with zero compression of the median nerve. There are many nerves through the shoulder, elbow and forearm that could be compressed for any number of reasons and still cause those sensations.
All too often, patients who work at a computer all day and have wrist pain assume that they must have CTS. In fact, heavy computer use as a cause of carpal tunnel is one of the top three myths about carpal tunnel syndrome; both cause and diagnosis could be very different from what these patients have read up about on their own.
The bottom line is to always get medical advice from a doctor in person, not online, to make sure you’re getting the appropriate treatment for your health concerns.