I’ve heard that smoking is a cause for the pain I have with carpal tunnel syndrome. I would be willing to try quitting smoking if I thought it would really stop the pain in my hands. Is there any kind of test I could have that would show me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ smoking would help?

There are several things you may need to know about smoking and carpal tunnel syndrome. Of course, even without the carpal tunnel, the long-term consequences of tobacco use are well documented and potentially serious. In the interest of your overall health and well-being, it is always advised to stop smoking. Most likely, you already know this but it is important enough to bear repeating.

Second, pain is not considered a classic sign of carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes people have such severe numbness that they consider the symptom “painful”. A clear and accurate diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome can be made through a combination of health history, clinical tests, and nerve conduction (electrophysiologic) studies. The nerve conduction studies are especially important to confirm the diagnosis.

Studies done so far have not conclusively and consistently linked smoking with carpal tunnel syndrome. Although it appears there is some kind of association between the two things, the exact relationship remains unclear. For example, it is possible that depression is the underlying reason why people smoke (to self-soothe). Likewise, chronic pain may be the reason people smoke (or increase their use of tobacco). Other studies have linked pain intensity with smoking.

Smokers seem to get more relief from surgery to decompress the nerve (take pressure off the nerve) compared with nonsmokers. This finding suggests some link between carpal tunnel syndrome and smoking. But again, the exact mechanism between the two is unknown.

There are many helpful tools available now to assist people in stopping smoking. Talk with your physician or the local health department and find out what is available to you. With or without painful symptoms from carpal tunnel syndrome, smoking cessation is clearly beneficial and in your best interest.