Uh oh, do you feel pain, numbness or tingling in your hand or fingers – ON BOTH HANDS? This is not unusual, and it’s one of the well-known facts about carpal tunnel; you usually get it on both hands. It’s called bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the second most common hand disorder in the USA after arthritis.  This condition produces pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and fingers. It’s especially bad in the thumb. Eventually hands and fingers feel clumsy and lose grip or pinch strength. The disorder happens when the tendons inside the wrist joint become inflamed and swollen. The median nerve, which controls sensation to the hand and fingers, lies right next to those tendons. Thus, the swollen tendons push and compress the adjacent nerve. When any nerve is compressed, it produces these terrible sensations. Nobody is quite sure what causes that tendon swelling to begin with. However, overusing your hands and fingers seems to make the condition appear in most people.

What is Bilateral Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Most people who had numbness, tingling or pain in one hand eventually saw the same problems in their other hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome behaves this way. So unfortunately, if you feel these symptoms in one hand then you have good chance they will appear in the other hand. This is bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and it is a huge problem for employers and workers.

For at least two decades doctors recognized that carpal tunnel syndrome will almost always happen in both hands. Preventative measures can help reduce the chances of developing bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. However, most people don’t take precautions, and thus the other hand ultimately suffers as well.

Is Bilateral Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Normal?

Carpal Tunnel is Not Normal

The condition of carpal tunnel syndrome is abnormal, like a disease. Drs. Bagatur and Zorer were among the first to report that carpal tunnel syndrome is a bilateral disorder. That means it eventually happens in both hands, and that’s its normal course. Thus, doctors should consider it a “bilateral disorder” from the outset. Yes, if you are unlucky enough to get it, you will likely see symptoms in both hands at some point. Doctors should therefore encourage patients to take precautions in the other hand while they can.

Bilateral Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Is Normal

Bagatur and Zorer studied patients who had open carpal tunnel release surgery. This is when a 1-2 inch slit on the palm exposes a ligament covering the wrist joint. Cutting this ligament lets the wrist bones snap open. This gives the median nerve more room in an already crowded space. The result is that the nerve is “decompressed”. The symptoms related to the compressed nerve (like pain, numbness and tingling in your hand and finger) disappear. Over 59% of those patients had symptoms in both hands. And in 73% of those patients, symptoms were so severe they needed a surgery on the other hand.

Over time, the researchers followed-up patients with carpal tunnel syndrome in one hand. Nearly ALL developed the disease on the opposite side. They concluded that carpal tunnel syndrome is a bilateral disease which becomes more evident as time goes on.

Precautions against Bilateral Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Another fact was uncovered by Bagatur and Zorer. There is a direct relationship between how long symptoms go untreated, and the appearance of symptoms in the other hand. That means the patients did not take the warning signs seriously enough to prevent the other hand from eventually suffering. Therefore, avoid bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome while you can. Take precautions immediately, which include:

  • Stopping excessive hand and finger activities
  • Resting and carpal tunnel stretches for wrist and fingers
  • Applying myofascial massage to the wrist and forearm.

The takeaway message is simple. If you see signs of carpal tunnel syndrome in one hand, treat it now. Also start preventive measures on the other hand even if it feels normal.