There are seven conditions that mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
First up is pronator teres syndrome. “Whereas carpal tunnel syndrome is compression of the median nerve at the wrist,” begins Jonathan Oheb, MD, North Valley Orthopedic Institute, Chief of Orthopedic Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery, “pronator syndrome is median nerve compression at the elbow.”
PTS is similar to CTS in that it can cause pain, numbness, tingling and burning in one’s thumb, index and middle finger, and half the ring finger, says Dr. Oheb.
But CTS will not cause pain in the forearm. And PTS can cause loss of sensation to your palm, because a branch of the median nerve comes off before the carpal tunnel, says Dr. Oheb.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be mistaken for PTS. This happened to my mother.
The neurologist who was setting her up for an EMG actually told her he thought she had pronator syndrome. After he was finished with the EMG study, he said, “It’s carpal tunnel.”
What other conditions can mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Dr. Oheb says, “Cervical disc disease or cervical spinal stenosis (associated with concomitant neck pain and often radiating symptoms from the neck).”
When my mother was in the ER (prior to seeing the neurologist for the EMG study), the ER physician was pretty convinced she had a pinched nerve in her neck that was causing her hand pain and finger numbness.
He concluded this based on asking her questions about her symptoms and then viewing an image of her neck that he said showed cervical spinal stenosis (narrowing of the canal through which the spinal cord runs at the neck).
Her symptoms resolved after having carpal tunnel release surgery.
Two more conditions that mimic carpal tunnel symptoms are cubital tunnel syndrome and ulnar tunnel syndrome.
These cause numbness and paresthesias in the ring and pinky, says Dr. Oheb.
He also names thoracic outlet syndrome and diabetic neuropathy as differentials for CTS.