My Story of Misdiagnosed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Updated on May 26, 2017
Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok is skilled at studying what doctors don't always explain. His articles are based on his own experience and research.

Over a period of six years my left hand would occasionally get numb. I even had experiences where I would wake up in the middle of the night to discover that my hand was totally limp. That is, it was like a dead extremity on the end of my arm.

As soon as I moved my body, however, the numbness and feeling of limpness would dissipate. I would quickly be able to move my hand and fingers again. This happened more and more often as time went by.

I went to a neurologist who recommended a wrist brace. It was available to buy over the counter in a drug store. I rarely had a problem whenever I used the brace, which I wore at night. I didn’t need it during the day, since I rarely had problems with numbness while I was up and around.

Six Years Later a Nerve Conduction Study was Performed

Six years later I needed to see a hand specialist for an unrelated injury to one of my fingers. He inquired about any other health issues I might have, so I mentioned the numbness.

He did a nerve conduction study, which involved sending electrical impulses through my nerves. The purpose of this test was to measure the speed that the impulses passed through my median nerve in my hands to my brain and back again.

The doctor explained that results of that study indicated I had carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand and that I should have surgery to fix it before it got worse.

Median Nerve Runs Through the Carpal Tunnel

The carpal tunnel is where the median nerve runs through from the hand, through the wrist, and up the arm to the brain.

When the ligaments around the wrist are inflamed from stress, they squeeze the carpal tunnel. That pressure disturbs the nerves, causing numbness and pain. I never had pain, but my hand would get numb.

When the Carpal Tunnel is inflamed from irritation, it can put pressure on the Median Nerve that goes through the tunnel.
When the Carpal Tunnel is inflamed from irritation, it can put pressure on the Median Nerve that goes through the tunnel. | Source

My doctor said that if I didn’t have it fixed, each time my hand got numb the nerves might die a little and eventually they may never recover.

That convinced me, and I had surgery. It involved making a small incision and cutting the ligament that was putting pressure on the carpal tunnel.

The surgery was done as an outpatient procedure in the hospital. But since I was put to sleep, they required that someone drive me home afterwards.

Recovery After the Carpal Tunnel Surgery

I was sent home with a huge pillow contraption that I used to prop my hand up while I slept. I had to sleep on my back to keep my hand on top of this pillow contraption for about a week.

Other than that, I was back to normal immediately and went about my daily routines. Luckily, I am right handed and since it was my left hand it didn’t interfere with my ability to continue doing everything.

A few weeks later, I had the stitches removed and everything was fine. It couldn’t have gone any better or have been any easier. The numbness occurred very rarely after the surgery.

However, almost two years later I started having the numbness quite regularly in the middle of the night. My doctor did tell me that there is a possibility carpal tunnel can reoccur if I continue to irritate my wrist, but I never really knew what I had done to irritate it.

Yes it's true that I type a lot. I use my right hand to control the mouse, which puts pressure on the wrist while holding it in an unusual way. However, it’s my left hand that I had trouble with!

I May Never Have Had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Almost two years after the carpal tunnel surgery, something else happened that changed the entire diagnosis!

I injured my shoulder and had pain due to a torn rotator cuff. Not knowing what was causing the pain yet, my doctor sent me to an orthopedist. He explained that nerve compression in the neck can cause radiating symptoms into the shoulder, so he ordered an MRI of my cervical spine in order to do a proper diagnosis. That’s the top of the spine in the neck.

An MRI showed that I had three herniated discs in my cervical spine.
An MRI showed that I had three herniated discs in my cervical spine. | Source

The MRI showed that I had three herniated discs! This is also known as prolapsed or slipped discs.

That might have been caused by years of working at the computer, typing my articles and reading on the screen while leaning forward and bending my head up. Not to mention all the programming I do to maintain my website, or crimping the phone between my neck and my shoulder when I talk to clients.

How to Ease Neck Herniated Disc Problems

The problem is that the herniated discs push against the spinal cord and the pressure can interfere with the nerves running through the spine. Therefore it should be treated to avoid further damage.

Treatment is sometimes as simple as changing behavior. Examples of behavior changes include modifying sitting position and sleeping with correctly sized pillows under the head.

I needed to raise my office chair (it’s adjustable), and I lowered the monitor, so I don’t look up as I look at the computer screen. That helped correct my sitting posture so I don't crimp my neck by bending it back.

Maintaining proper posture while sitting or standing is very important to avoid disc compression. I have always stood erect with a good posture, but working at my computer is another thing altogether. I spent decades working on the computer without giving any thought to my cervical spine.

I also was told to sleep on my back with a pillow under my head to keep it from falling back. No problem. Ironically I already was doing that since I had gotten used to sleeping that way after the carpal tunnel surgery.

Suddenly, A Different Diagnosis

When my family doctor read the clinical report of the MRI, he told me that the nerves in my neck that the herniated discs were pressing against might have caused my hand to get numb. He added that it’s possible I may never have had carpal tunnel syndrome.

Well, that explains why the numbness started reoccurring.

I asked my doctor why it got better after the surgery if it was my neck coursing the problem. He asked me if I was sleeping differently since then. I slept with a huge pillow that they gave me after the surgery. This was used to hold my hand up while sleeping. That got me used to sleeping on my back, and I continued sleeping that way ever since.

Sleeping on my back with my head on a decent pillow kept my neck in the proper position without putting stress on my cervical spine. This kept the nerves in my neck from being squashed by the herniated discs. It probably helped keep the condition from getting worse.

I was told that sleeping that way, with the proper use of the pillow under my head, might eventually allow the discs in my neck to move back into position. I can feel that this is happening since I never have the numbness in my hand when I am kind to my neck.

Be kind to your neck. Every nerve that connects your brain to the rest of your body runs through your neck. Well, you knew that.

Disclaimer

The purpose of this article is to share my experience in an effort to explain how symptoms may be misdiagnosed. The information here should not be used to perform your own diagnosis. If you have pain or any related issues, see your doctor.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Glenn Stok

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      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        2 months ago from Long Island, NY

        Jean, That's only assuming you have the same case I had. Based on your prior comment, that hasn't been determined yet. Only an MRI of your cervical spine will show if you have herniated discs in your neck.

      • Jean Bakula profile image

        Jean Bakula 

        2 months ago from New Jersey

        I will definitely bring this up at my next chiropractor appointment. He's the one I trust the most and the best diagnostician. I had surgeries and procedures for the scoliosis, but in childhood and teen years, so it's a matter of maintenance without pain meds as much as possible. But my chiropractor always adjusts my neck too. Maybe there is a different adjustment he can do.Great food for thought.

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        2 months ago from Long Island, NY

        Jean, I have two sides of the story to answer your question. As I mentioned in this article, my hand doctor gave a wrong diagnoses as my primary doctor later discovered.

        But you can’t blame him. I was told that if you do have a tight carpal tunnel that is squeezing the nerves, there is a chance that the nerves will eventually die if the pressure is not elliviated. So the condition of numbness can get worse or even become permanent if not treated.

        However, in my case it was due to nerves in my neck. My hand specialist never considered looking in other places, but I can’t say that would be true for all specialists. So it’s hard to say if one can trust any particular doctor.

        In my opinion it can be helpful to have the specialist report to your primary doctor who can view the entire situation based on your overall health and condition.

      • Jean Bakula profile image

        Jean Bakula 

        2 months ago from New Jersey

        I have numbness in my right hand, mostly the index and middle finger. I also had that electrical test and the Dr. told me I should get the carpal tunnel surgery ASAP. This was two years ago.

        I researched the surgery, and found it doesn't always help, in fact, it only helps in a small percentage of people. Also, I am left handed, so it's not even my dominant hand, though my Dr. said many people are getting ambidextrous in our tech dominated world.

        I have scoliosis, and never thought to connect that before I read this. My chiropractor is aware I type often and that I have an issue with the hand, so he works on it and that, plus the night brace, keep it better. So I am not going for surgery anytime soon! But I wonder how many others are being misled by doctors they trust?

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        13 months ago from Long Island, NY

        Heidi - Sounds like you had a good Chiropractor who understood the issue well. I'm glad you resolved your problem with the right care. Thanks for commenting about your experience.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        13 months ago from Chicago Area

        I can relate! I've had neck issues for years and occasionally experience what you did. Working on it from the neck aspect before addressing it as carpal tunnel, thanks to chiropractic care. Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        2 years ago from Long Island, NY

        brakel2- Yes Audrey, it is important to go to the right physician. Unfortunately, the wrong one will not see the real problem since they are focused on only their own profession. That's what's so sad about the condition of healthcare today. We really need to do our own research and verify that our doctor is doing the right thing. Good to see you around, Audrey. Take care of your neck problems.

      • brakel2 profile image

        Audrey Selig 

        2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

        Hi Glenn - This article interests me, as I have problems similar to yours. I also have a problem in my neck with a misaligned joint, and I do exercises. Thank you for your article with the information on the carpal tunnel and other problems. It makes me realize to get to the correct physician and have correct posture. Sharing Blessings, Audrey

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        5 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Lorrie - I hope you went to see a spine specialist as your doctor had suggested. Since your Carpal Tunnel came back after surgery, it's possible that the problem is in your neck - as was the case with me. Try sleeping on your back with your head propped up on a thick pillow. That worked for me. No more numbness anywhere as long as I do that.

      • profile image

        Lorrie 

        5 years ago

        When I went to have my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome corrected the surgeon said" No"

        It was stemming from the neck and see a spine surgeon.

        I did have the surgery. But it came back.

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        5 years ago from Long Island, NY

        (I'm reposting this comment with typo corrections)

        Kalux,

        The problem is that doctors today are specialists. They specialize in one thing and they know very little about anything else.

        In my case, my hand doctor, who said I had Carpal Tunnel, never understood a thing about what might be happening in my neck. He never considered that my wrist problems might be related to a herniated disc in my cervical spine.

        As I mentioned in my article, I found out about my herniated discs much later from an MRI that my orthopedist did. So you might want to discuss with your doctor what he or she thinks about that.

        In the meantime you might want to try sleeping on your back with a thick pillow under your head. That's what my orthopedist told me to do, and it helped.

        I was starting to have numbness in my feet in the middle of the night. Sleeping with a think pillow, holding my head up slightly, solved that problem since it kept the herniated discs in my neck from putting pressure on the nerves.

        So talk to your doctor about it. I hope you find the solution and the reason for your pain. Thanks for stopping by and reading my article.

      • Kalux profile image

        Kalux 

        5 years ago from Canada

        I will be bringing this up to my doctor for sure, I find this very interesting. I will also try to sleep to sleep on my back with a thicker pillow, I imagine that might be beneficial for a number of reasons since I have a habit of sleeping on my stomach with my head twisted sideways. This may just be the most helpful to my real life hub that I've read :) (Including your reply which is appreciated!) Thanks so much.

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        6 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Yes I keep it under control now that I found out it wasn't Carpal Tunnel after all, as I explained in this Hub. I just need to keep my head straight so I don't pinch my neck.

        When you work from your recliner, take some breaks and stand up and walk around once in a while. That might help. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Pamela N Red profile image

        Pamela N Red 

        6 years ago from Oklahoma

        The things we do to our bodies while writing. I have a laptop and sometimes work in the living room in my recliner instead of at my office. Moving from place to place helps but that mouse or trackpad in my case can still cause our hands to be in a cramped position. I hope you are better now, pain or numbness either one is no fun.

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        6 years ago from Long Island, NY

        jenubouka ~ I would recommend you go to your doctor and explain your symptoms and your concerns. Thanks for reading.

        Brainy Bunny ~ There can be so many other causes of symptoms for just about anything. That’s why it's so important to see the right doctor. Even to get second opinions. I'm glad you found the true cause of your pain without requiring surgery.

        Spirit Whisperer ~ I'm glad you enjoyed my story. You had an interesting analogy for it. Thanks for sharing it on Twitter and Facebook. Much appreciated.

      • Spirit Whisperer profile image

        Xavier Nathan 

        6 years ago from Isle of Man

        I thoroughly enjoyed your story and have also shared it on Twitter and Facebook.

        This is also a very good example of how we are hypnotised by people we perceive as authority figures and how so many problems are caused by their suggestions which are accepted by the subconscious.

        People spend most of their time in the state of hypnosis going about their daily loves on auto-pilot and very rarely questioning their experiences especially when being told what to do by those in authority. Thank you for a great hub.

      • Brainy Bunny profile image

        Brainy Bunny 

        6 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

        I experienced carpal tunnel syndrome when I was pregnant, so when I had a similar problem at another time I figured it was recurring. It would come and go, and eventually it got so annoying that I went to a new doctor and found out I actually had tendinitis of the wrist! Turns out the treatment was similar (wrist brace, Tylenol) but the prognosis was much better (no nerve death -- hooray!). I'm glad that you finally got a correct diagnosis and relief, too. Pain in the wrists is no fun, and it makes life very hard for people who sit at a computer all day.

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