The possibility of a link to migraine or carpal tunnel syndrome - Medical News Today

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Experts believe there could be a connection to migraine headaches and nerve compression in other areas within the body. Anna Berkut/Stocksy

  • Researchers studied how common migraine headaches are among those that undergo nerve decompression procedures.

  • The researchers found that people are undergoing nerve decompression at specific locations in the body could be 70 percent more likely suffer from migraine than people who undergo nerve compression elsewhere.

  • More research is needed to determine if nerve decompression could treat migraine.

The nerves of the hands and arms may compress muscles and soft tissues that can result in discomfort and impairment. Different types of nerve compressions in these regions can affect 5-9% to nearly 99% of people.

The procedure of surgical decompression is a popular treatment for the condition. It may result in the complete or partial relief of symptoms.

The nerves that surround the head can be compressed by the surrounding vessels, muscles, as well as bone. The decompression of these nerves could result in relief or improvement of migraines and headaches.

Carpal tunnel syndrome develops due to the nerve that connects the forearm and the palm of the hand gets stretched at the wrist.

A cross-sectional study of 25880 participants showed an average of 34% those who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome have migraine in comparison only 16% those who do not suffer from the condition.

Finding out if nerve compression in the head is related with nerve compressions in arms and hands could help in determining the severity of the symptoms.

Researchers studied how prevalent migraine was among patients who had nerve decompression surgery on hands and arms.

They also found that those suffering from specific types that caused nerve pressure were more likely suffer headaches due to migraine.

The Dr. Chantel Strachan, an internist at ColumbiaDoctors and an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York who was not associated with the study said in Medical News Today:

“I am not rushing to suggest carpal tunnel decompression for migraine sufferers in every patient. The decision of whether to pursue the surgical treatment for nerve compression is an individual decision and should be discussed with the patient’s medical team of physicians.”

This study has been published by the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery..

In the course of the study, researchers analyzed information from 9,558 patients who had nerve decompression surgery on hands and arms between 2009 and the year 2019.

Researchers also tested participants for the possibility of a migraine diagnosis.

Around 71% of patients were treated for the median nerve decompression. It’s a procedure surgically carried out on the wrist in order to relieve tension upon the nerve and, consequently, reduce the signs associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Around 14% of patients had an ulnar nerve decompression. This is an nerve decompression in the elbow. It’s estimated that 6.5 percent of patients underwent decompression surgery in multiple places throughout the body.

At the end of the day, researchers concluded that patients with median nerve decompression or multi nerve decompression were between 30% and 70 percent more likely to suffer from migraine than those with an ulnar nerve decompression.

Male sex and age have been linked in a way to less migraine. However, other conditions like psychiatric disorders, rheumatoid arthritis as well as hypothyroidism are associated with higher incidences of migraine.

To better understand the ways nerve decompression as well as migraine could be connected, MNT spoke with Dr. Sean Ormond, a specialist in anesthesiology and interventional pain treatment.

He pointed out that the causes behind nerve compressions in hands and arms and migraine aren’t fully understood.


However, there are a variety of theories that exist.

“Both lower extremity nerve compression syndromes as well as migraine could have a lot in common

risk factors

For example, obesity, sedentary lifestyles bad posture, obesity, repetitive strain injuries,” Ormond said.

“Nerve compression can also cause an inflammatory response to the affected region. Inflammation has also been proven to contribute to the pathophysiology of migraine. Inflammation within a specific part of the body could cause an overall increased inflammation, which could end up leading to the occurrence of migraines,” he added.

Ormond pointed out the possibility that genetic factors could cause people to be more prone for upper nerve pressure and migraine. However, further research is required to prove this.

Strachan claimed that nerve damaged could increase the symptoms of pain for people suffering from migraine.

Strachan said that because of the retrospective nature in the research, results indicate a correlation but not causality.

She said the guidelines used to diagnose migraine can differ by the doctor and their subspecialty that included neurology, primary care and pain.

In their paper, researchers pointed out that there is an overall overlap between chronic pain disorders, suggesting that the link between migraine and nerve compression may be due to other causes.

In response to a question about the findings of the study Ormond stated: “It is important to be aware the fact that nerve decompression surgery to treat migraine is a relatively new procedure, and its effectiveness can vary between individuals.”

“Research regarding this procedure is ongoing and some migraine sufferers might not be suitable candidates for this process,” he added

“It is crucial for those who are considering nerve decompression surgery to treat migraine therapy to speak about potential risks and advantages with their medical professionals and weigh their options against more conservative options like medication and lifestyle changes,” Ormond said.