Numbness in the hand is a common problem that we’ve all had at one time or another, and unless it becomes frequent, we usually don’t worry too much about it. When it starts to wake us up at night, that SHOULD get our attention! Since carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is one of the most common causes of hand numbness, that must be it, right? Not necessarily!
CTS is caused by pinching of the median nerve as it travels through a sometimes too tight boney tunnel made up of the eight small carpal bones at the wrist. But there are two other nerves that arise in the neck and travel down the arm to the hand that may be the culprit, one of which is the ulnar nerve (the other is the radial nerve).
When the ulnar nerve is entrapped near the humorous, it creates a condition called cubital tunnel syndrome (CuTS). It’s during the examination that a doctor of chiropractic can determine if the culprit behind a patient’s hand symptoms is the median nerve, the ulnar nerve, or even both nerves.
Diagnosis can become tricky, as there are other causes of whole hand numbness such as diabetic neuropathy or an injury to a network of nerves closer to the neck called the brachial plexus. More commonly, cutting off the blood supply in the upper, inner arm will make the whole arm (not just the hand) numb and feel “dead” until it “wakes up,” which may take a few minutes for the blood to percolate back into the arm and hand.
CuTS can occur from repeatedly applying pressure to the pinky-side of the elbow, such as leaning on the elbow against a hard surface, keeping the elbow bent too long (such as talking on a cell phone), resting the arm or elbow on the sill of a car door with driving, and/or maintaining prolonged awkward positions, like playing a musical instrument such as a flute or violin. Baseball pitchers throwing too many sliders and curve balls are also at increased risk of developing CuTS.
Like with CTS, the longer you wait before seeking treatment for CuTS, the longer it may take to recover (or in some cases, full recovery may not be possible) so if you’re feeling numbness, tingling, or pain in one or both hands, please consult with a doctor of chiropractic right away!