Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Linked to Migraines

About 12 percent of the U.S. population gets recurring attacks of moderate to severe headaches called migraines. Migraines are three times more common in women than in men. This type of headache pain is often described as throbbing or pulsing, and is often on one side of the head. During a migraine, there may be sensitivity to light and sound and it may be associated with nausea and vomiting. Sometimes migraines are preceded by flashing lights or zigzag lines or a temporary loss of vision.
Traditionally, the onset of migraines can be attributed to:
Lack of food or sleep
Exposure to light
Hormonal changes (in women)
Food sensitivities to chocolate, red wine, cheese, or allergens.

Doctors used to believe migraines were affected by blood flow changes in the head. Now it has been discovered that there may be a genetic predisposition to having a particular type of brain cell become abnormally active triggering migraines. While medications may help prevent migraine attacks or relieve symptoms of attacks and for many people, treatments to relieve or avoid the factors mentioned above may also minimize migraines.
Recent findings at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, discovered a likely correlation between cases of carpal tunnel syndrome and migraine headaches.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the neck, through the shoulder, down the arm, across the elbow, down the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed. While the assumption is that the compression occurs at the wrist, the large number of failed carpal tunnel surgeries would indicate that carpal tunnel can be caused by pressure on the nerve anywhere along its path. The median nerve controls feeling to the palm side of the thumb and three fingers (not the little finger). It also is involved with the action of some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move.
Carpal tunnel symptoms generally come about slowly, and eventually cause burning, tingling, itching or numbness in the palm of the hand and the thumb and the index and middle fingers. Some carpal tunnel patients say their fingers feel useless and swollen, although little or no swelling is apparent. The symptoms are often worse at night, since many people sleep with flexed wrists. These symptoms may create the need to “shake out” the hand or wrist in the middle of the night. As symptoms worsen, tingling can occur during the day and may be associated with decreased grip strength. Some people are unable to tell between hot and cold by touch.
Repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and wrist during work or leisure activities can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist bursitis and tendonitis have been associated with repeated motions performed in the course of normal work or other activities. These movements can also aggravate nerves as they leave the neck over time creating similar symptoms that are not caused by wrist impingement (this is the reason many carpal tunnel surgeries do not work).
Migraines do not seem to be impacted by the type of job one performs. Although they can be triggered by the factors mentioned above, sufferers of this severe type of headache may be found in all career areas.
Now, according to Dr. Law and his colleagues at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas , thirty-four per cent of respondents to a survey indicating they suffer from both migraines and carpal tunnel syndrome. The team discovered that the odds of having migraines along with the wrist problem are 2.6 times higher than the average population and migraine victims were found to be 2.7 times more likely to also have CTS.
From a chiropractic standpoint, this research finding makes sense. With knowledge of functional anatomy our profession gains an understanding that small changes in the biomechanics of the neck, shoulder, arms and wrists, can contribute to both carpal tunnel symptoms and migraine onset. Restoring the function of the neck mechanics while modifying dietary and work behaviors can also go a long way to reducing or resolving both of these conditions.

*This study appeared in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery—Global Open and was led by Huay-Zong Law, MD, and colleagues of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.