Diagnosing carpal tunnel should be done by a medical professional. There are many other diagnoses that can mimic carpal tunnel syndrome, some that are more severe than others.
Let’s quickly review some of the components of diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a Diagnosis Based on Clinical Symptoms
First and foremost, carpal tunnel syndrome is a clinical diagnosis. It can be diagnosed in a doctor’s office without any special equipment as long as the symptoms fit the typical carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a syndrome where the median nerve, which travels in the carpal tunnel, is compressed. Therefore, the symptoms should be in a distribution consistent with median nerve compression.
Symptoms that are consistent include numbness and tingling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and ring finger. It can also mean weakness in certain muscles.
You can check out my post on how it typically progresses and feels like. As I go through in that post, symptoms almost always progress from being intermittent and at night to being constant.
Carpal tunnel syndrome does NOT necessarily need to be diagnosed through special testing.
However, if your symptoms do not fit the typical carpal tunnel syndrome pattern (which they frequently do not), you may need further testing. Other potential diagnoses can include general nerve issues (ex: peripheral neuropathy), other nerve issues (ex: cubital tunnel syndrome), or neck-related issues. Further testing may include imaging of the neck or nerves tests, such as electromyography (EMG).
If you’re doctor ordered an EMG, you’ll want to know what to expect. Your doctor may have ordered it because he/she wants to rule out other diagnoses or they want to see how badly your nerve has been impacted.
Wearing a Carpal Tunnel Brace
Wearing a carpal tunnel wrist brace can be very helpful.
It can serve as a couple purposes to wear a brace:
Wearing a brace will help prevent your wrist from bending, particularly at night. This may help to decrease your symptoms and may allow you to get more sleep at night.
Because your wrist bends less when you are wearing a brace, it also allows time for the nerve to recover. Nerves generally require a long time to recover, so the longer you can wear it the better.
Braces are relatively benign. Other than the hassle of wearing a brace, there are little to no risks from wearing one. Therefore, wearing a brace can for a set amount of time may not only serve as a treatment…it may also serve to confirm the diagnosis. If your symptoms improve, then it is likely you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. If your symptoms do not improve, then it may be time to seek further diagnostic testing.
Please note that an EMG nerve test can definitely help to confirm a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, but like I said earlier, carpal tunnel syndrome is still primarily diagnosed by your clinical symptoms. We’re getting into semantics here, but an EMG can tell if you have median mononeuropathy (nerve damage) or not. It cannot tell if you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
EMG’s give information about actual nerve damage. Although not very frequent, you can have symptoms without actual nerve damage. So, if your EMG test does not show any nerve damage, it does not necessarily mean you don’t have carpal tunnel syndrome.
As I said earlier, though, an EMG can be helpful in seeing if there are other diagnoses contributing to your symptoms or can also grade the severity of your carpal tunnel syndrome