Can widespread hypersensitivity in carpal tunnel syndrome be substantiated if neck and arm pain are absent?
Schmid AB., Soon BT., Wasner G., Coppieters MW.
Recent studies demonstrated that patients with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) have signs of thermal and mechanical hyperalgesia in extra-median territories suggesting an involvement of central pain mechanisms. As previous studies included patients with shoulder/arm symptoms or neck pain, a potential influence of these coexisting disorders cannot be excluded. This study therefore evaluated whether widespread sensory changes (hypoesthesia or hyperalgesia) are present in patients with unilateral CTS in the absence of coexisting disorders. Twenty-six patients with unilateral CTS with symptoms localised to their hand and 26 healthy controls participated in the study. A comprehensive quantitative sensory testing (QST) protocol including thermal and mechanical detection and pain thresholds was performed over the hands (median, ulnar and radial innervation area), lateral elbows, neck and tibialis anterior muscle. Patients with CTS demonstrated thermal and mechanical hypoesthesia in the hand but not at distant sites. Thermal or mechanical hyperalgesia was not identified at any location with traditional QST threshold testing. However, patients with CTS rated the pain during thermal pain testing significantly higher than healthy participants. This was especially apparent for heat pain ratings which were elevated not only in the affected hand but also in the neck and tibialis anterior muscle. In conclusion, CTS alone in the absence of coexisting neck and arm pain does not account for sensory changes outside the affected hand as determined by traditional QST threshold testing. Elevated pain ratings may however be an early indication of central pain mechanisms.