Is Your Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Causing Your Thumb Arthritis? Is Arthritis Caused by Bad Nerves?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

arthritis caused by bad nerves

Is Thumb Arthritis caused by bad nerves?  We’ve seen for years an association between thumb arthritis and subtle findings of carpal tunnel syndrome. What I mean by this, is that many patients who we evaluate for stem cell treatments of their CMC thumb joints also have issues we can detect in their median nerve (the one in the wrist that goes to the thumb and is involved in carpal tunnel syndrome). Are these two be linked? Does this mean that we need to be treating both problems as if they were one?

Last month a group of researchers looked at older thumb arthritis patients by checking for a common feature of nerve pain – widespread hypersensitivity. What does that mean? When nerves go bad, they first start to get hyper-sensitive. You intuitively know this from having a bad tooth, as it can first be quite sensitive to hot or cold or touch, long before it stops complaining because the nerve died off. This happens as a “warning signal” delivered by the body that there’s a problem with a nerve. Since the nerves are the internal wiring that direct every muscle as well as taking information from countless sensors to the brain, losing one due to damage, injury, or disease isn’t taken lightly by the body.

Getting back to our researchers, they took 16 patients with symptomatic thumb arthritis (CMC or base of the thumb) and 16 healthy controls. They then used a common system to measure pain hyper-sensitivity which was made up of a pressure device that measures the amount of pushing that the patient feels as pain. When nerves are bad, they interpret less pushing pressure as painful. They were able to show that patients with symptomatic thumb arthritis had lower pressure-pain thresholds not only over the thumb, but also the neck, the leg, and in other areas compared to controls. The first research study by this same group on the topic had initially only found the pain pressure sensitivity over the thumb, so why are they now finding it everywhere?

You may recall a seminal paper published a few years back entitled, “Arthritis doesn’t cause Pain, Pain causes Arthritis”.  Meaning that the reason we keep failing to find great MRI and x-ray correlations between patients who have pain and patients who have arthritis is that arthritis is a nerve problem manifesting as a structural one. After decades of brain washing by the medical community that an MRI will surely show the cause of their pain, I have found that patients really have a hard time grasping this concept. So let me put it a different way. Your arthritis is bad because of bad nerves or bad nerves make your arthritis worse. So in this case, something causes the initial problem in the thumb joint. The joint nerves then become sensitized (read much more sensitive) which is a process that includes the spinal cord and all the nerves leading from the joint (i.e. the median nerve in the wrist). If it’s an acute problem that can heal (let’s say the person hit their thumb in a car crash), then this sensitization merely performs the role of telling the body that it needs to be careful with that thumb so that it heals (by making it and much of the surrounding hand hurt a lot). However, if it never heals, the sensitization can remain. In addition, it can also go the other way–pressure on nerves in the neck, shoulder, or wrist can trick the body into thinking the thumb is injured. Over time, this nerve problem elsewhere leads to bad muscle firing and bad chemicals being dumped into the thumb joint and this facilitates arthritis.

The upshot? More research is continuing to get the SANS approach described in our practice’s e-book, that nerves play a key role in the propagation of arthritis, so just looking at the joint in many cases is folly. So in this specific situation, in a patient with thumb arthritis, a 2-3 minute quick exam of the thumb and hand isn’t adequate. Instead, a detailed examination of the thumb, hand, wrist nerves, shoulder nerves, and neck spinal nerves should make up the routine investigation into the cause and possible treatments for thumb arthritis.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
View Profile

Get Blog Updates by Email

Get fresh updates and insights from Regenexx delivered straight to your inbox.

Regenerative procedures are commonly used to treat musculoskelatal trauma, overuse injuries, and degenerative issues, including failed surgeries.
Select Your Problem Area
Shoulder

Shoulder

Many Shoulder and Rotator Cuff injuries are good candidates for regenerative treatments. Before considering shoulder arthroscopy or shoulder replacement, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.

  • Rotator Cuff Tears and Tendinitis
  • Shoulder Instability
  • SLAP Tear / Labral Tears
  • Shoulder Arthritis
  • Other Degenerative Conditions & Overuse Injuries
Learn More
Cervical Spine

Spine

Many spine injuries and degenerative conditions are good candidates for regenerative treatments and there are a number of studies showing promising results in treating a wide range of spine problems. Spine surgery should be a last resort for anyone, due to the cascade of negative effects it can have on the areas surrounding the surgery. And epidural steroid injections are problematic due to their long-term negative impact on bone density.

  • Herniated, Bulging, Protruding Discs
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • SI Joint Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Pinched Nerves and General Back Pain
  • And more
Learn More
Knee

Knees

Knees are the target of many common sports injuries. Sadly, they are also the target of a number of surgeries that research has frequently shown to be ineffective or minimally effective. Knee arthritis can also be a common cause for aging athletes to abandon the sports and activities they love. Regenerative procedures can be used to treat a wide range of knee injuries and conditions. They can even be used to reduce pain and delay knee replacement for more severe arthritis.

  • Knee Meniscus Tears
  • Knee ACL Tears
  • Knee Instability
  • Knee Osteoarthritis
  • Other Knee Ligaments / Tendons & Overuse Injuries
  • And more
Learn More
Lower Spine

Spine

Many spine injuries and degenerative conditions are good candidates for regenerative treatments and there are a number of studies showing promising results in treating a wide range of spine problems. Spine surgery should be a last resort for anyone, due to the cascade of negative effects it can have on the areas surrounding the surgery. And epidural steroid injections are problematic due to their long-term negative impact on bone density.

  • Herniated, Bulging, Protruding Discs
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • SI Joint Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Pinched Nerves and General Back Pain
  • And more
Learn More
Hand & Wrist

Hand & Wrist

Hand and wrist injuries and arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and conditions relating to overuse of the thumb, are good candidates for regenerative treatments. Before considering surgery, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.
  • Hand and Wrist Arthritis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Trigger Finger
  • Thumb Arthritis (Basal Joint, CMC, Gamer’s Thumb, Texting Thumb)
  • Other conditions that cause pain
Learn More
Elbow

Elbow

Most injuries of the elbow’s tendons and ligaments, as well as arthritis, can be treated non-surgically with regenerative procedures.

  • Golfer’s elbow & Tennis elbow
  • Arthritis
  • Ulnar collateral ligament wear (common in baseball pitchers)
  • And more
Learn More
Hip

Hip

Hip injuries and degenerative conditions become more common with age. Do to the nature of the joint, it’s not quite as easy to injure as a knee, but it can take a beating and pain often develops over time. Whether a hip condition is acute or degenerative, regenerative procedures can help reduce pain and may help heal injured tissue, without the complications of invasive surgical hip procedures.

  • Labral Tear
  • Hip Arthritis
  • Hip Bursitis
  • Hip Sprain, Tendonitis or Inflammation
  • Hip Instability
Learn More
Foot & Ankle

Foot & Ankle

Foot and ankle injuries are common in athletes. These injuries can often benefit from non-surgical regenerative treatments. Before considering surgery, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.
  • Ankle Arthritis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Ligament sprains or tears
  • Other conditions that cause pain
Learn More

Is Regenexx Right For You?

Request a free Regenexx Info Packet

REGENEXX WEBINARS

Learn about the #1 Stem Cell & Platelet Procedures for treating arthritis, common joint injuries & spine pain.

Join a Webinar

RECEIVE BLOG ARTICLES BY EMAIL

Get fresh updates and insights from Regenexx delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to the Blog

FOLLOW US

Copyright © Regenexx 2019. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy

*DISCLAIMER: Like all medical procedures, Regenexx® Procedures have a success and failure rate. Patient reviews and testimonials on this site should not be interpreted as a statement on the effectiveness of our treatments for anyone else.

Providers listed on the Regenexx website are for informational purposes only and are not a recommendation from Regenexx for a specific provider or a guarantee of the outcome of any treatment you receive.