Natural Treatments For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatments
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a terrifically annoying syndrome that can affect people across the board - especially in today's society where we are all computer driven. Computer and/or mouse usage is one of the leading causes of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) although many other lifestyle elements can cause it as well.
Cashiering, playing a musical instrument, working a jackhammer - these are but a few of the ways that you can develop a cumulative trauma injury such as CTS. It can be a very painful and disheartening complex to experience because let's face it - we all use our hands. The question becomes, how can we keep it from happening? And if we have symptoms, how best to treat them?
What is the Pathophysiology of CTS?
In plain terms, median nerve compression is the culprit in carpal tunnel syndrome - the median nerve is the nerve that controls the thumb through the thumb side of the ring finger. It passes through the wrist in the carpal tunnel which is only the size of a letter stamp - but along with the median nerve, there are other nerves, blood vessels and 9 different tendons going through there as well.
Repetitive motions (stress) or certain medical illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, obesity, pregnancy, or hypothyroidism cause the nerve to swell, thus taking up too much room in the carpal tunnel and causing the inflammation. Once inflamed, it is imperative that the inflammation be treated to avoid permanent damage or continued pain. If left untreated, this condition can actually cause wasting or atrophy of the muscles of the hand, thus resulting in the permanent damage.
What Are The Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
- Most people will begin to experience symptoms for the first time at night when sleeping - that sensation where you wake up and your hand is numb or tingling and you need to shake it to get it to quit
- Numbness in the thumb through the thumb side of the ring finger (if your pinkie finger is numb, that is not CTS)
- Tingling in the thumb through the thumb side of the ring finger
- Pain in the hand or wrist with range of motion
- Inability to grip or pain with gripping
- Swelling in the wrist or hand
- Pain shooting into the forearm or shoulder (in more advanced stages)
Ways to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
That old saying 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' could not be more appropriate than when applied to carpal tunnel syndrome. The most salient point to make in this aggravating muscle/tendon injury syndrome is to not get it in the first place if you can at all prevent it. Here are some ways to avoid it:
- Stay healthy - stay in shape and exercise often - eat right
- Avoid becoming obese - this may sound silly but the more weight in your wrists, the less room your nerves have to work
- If you do a job that involves repetitive motions, take frequent small breaks and be consistent about that - not just when you are feeling good and have no symptoms
- Be ergonomically wise. If you work on a computer, make sure that you know if your workstation is ergonomically 'correct'. If you are not sure, have an occupational therapist or someone in ergonomics evaluate your workstation and give recommendations
- Avoid having pressure on your wrists - for example, do not rest your wrist on the edge of the desk while you type. Just the simple pressure point can set you up for disaster. Keep wrists straight (neutral) when typing or doing any keyboard activities for any length of time
- Along those same lines, make sure your computer screen is at eye level - when one part of the body is struggling to do a task, the other parts follow suit and it causes a chain reaction
- Sleep with your hand and wrist flat on the mattress at night - not tucked underneath your head or a pillow - this can lead to crimping of the nerve as well
- If you can switch hands for repetitive tasks, do that - if you can't then again - frequent breaks - frequent means 1-2 minutes every 20-30 minutes
- If you can slow down during the repetitive task, do that - studies show that the higher the speed of the impact, the more quickly CTS develops
- Minimize vibratory tool use if you possibly can - the vibrations especially at high speed increase the rapidity at which CTS can develop
- Ice - not heat. Heat stimulates blood flow to the area, however, that in turn causes the nerve to swell. You want the opposite effect so 5-15 minutes 2 or 3 times per day with ice will get you far more benefit
- Use over the counter pain relief for the inflammation although aspirin and ibuprofen are the only 2 pain relievers that will actually reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will make it feel better but has no medicinal properties to reduce swelling
- See your doctor or health care provider if your symptoms increase or do not go away with simple treatments such as above. Splinting is an option, however, make sure that you are fitted with the proper splint and not a makeshift one - it does make a difference
- Splint at night if necessary to keep the hand and wrist in a neutral position
- Exercises for CTS as below
- Homeopathic or naturopathic remedies as below
Basic Hand Exercises to Reduce CTS
Hand and Wrist Exercises
For anyone working with their hands on a repetitive basis, the National Safety Council recommends performing these 4 exercises at least twice per day or whenever you can.
Finger-Thumb Squeeze Exercise
Use a small rubber ball (or therapeutic putty) and squeeze it tightly in your hand 5-10 times. Then stretch the fingers. Repeat with the other hand.
Making Circles with Wrist
Palms down/hands out - rotate the wrists 5 times counterclockwise and then clockwise.
Grasp the left thumb with the right hand. Gently pull the thumb out and back - you will feel a stretch (should be gentle). Hold for 5-10 seconds and release. Repeat 3-5 times on each thumb.
Doing a 5-Finger Stretch
Spread your fingers on both hands as far apart as you can - hold 5-10 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.
Use no more than 5 lb as it will make the syndrome worse - recommend 1-2 lb. weights
Hold 1-2 pound weights at your side, palms facing forward. Curl your arms up keeping wrists straight. Amount: 10 curls per arm - increase to 40 over several weeks using 1-2 lb.
Palm-Up Wrist Curls
Resting forearm on a table, palm facing upward and hand held over the edge of the table, use 1-2 pound weight in your hand and flex wrist upward 10 times. Amount: 1-2 lb. 10 times, then increase to 40 over time.
Palm-Down Wrist Curls
Same position as above only have palms facing downward. Flex the wrists upward 10 times and work up to 40 reps over time. Amount: 1-2 lb 10 times, then increase to 40 over time.
Naturopathic Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are natural treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome rather than surgery - here are some of the recommended treatments:
- Vitamin B6 - Research has shown that vitamin B6 is effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome or people taking vitamin B6 developed CTS in fewer numbers. The recommended dosing for vitamin B6 is 50 mg 2-3 times daily. However, maximum intake of vitamin B6 (including in the diet) should not exceed 200 mg a day. Foods containing vitamin B6 are bananas, mangoes, sweet potatoes, avocados, brown rice, garbanzo beans, salmon, pork, turkey, chicken, potatoes, barley, sunflower seeds and bok choy
- Vitamins and supplements/Herbal preparations - Most recommended are ones containing vitamin B12, arnica, and enzyme supplements that contain bromelain(food source containing bromelain is pineapple). Some statistics say that vitamin B12 can be taken up to 1500 mcg daily works well in treating CTS. Arnica is available in tablets and ointment. Wobenzym (enzyme supplement) is said to reduce soft tissue swelling
- Acupressure - This is typically performed on the hands, wrist and forearm and stimulates blood flow to the area which then lessens numbness and tingling
- Acupuncture - This is generally done to points in the thumb, hand, arm and wrist but can also be used on the upper back, neck and leg to treat CTS. This is to create free flow down body meridians and thus reduce pain and symptoms. There is also laser acupuncture available now for CTS
- Chiropractic manipulation - Usually this is performed on the neck and upper back/arms, however, it is thought that it creates opening of pathways as a result of bony manipulation thus freeing nerves and tendons to move more freely
- Hellerwork - This is a 3-part technique that involves education in posture and ergonomics, relaxation techniques and then deep tissue massage work to the affected areas of soft tissue in the arm and wrist
- Feldenkrais - This is a class-type treatment where you learn how to move your body to avoid muscle strain, become more flexible and reduce joint stresses
- Yoga - It is believed that participating in yoga (doing 11 postures twice per week) can improve grip and reduce pain
- Cross Friction Massage - This is a technique anyone can do any time or anywhere. This involves either finger massage across the muscles and tendons 4 times per day or use of ice rubbed across the same area 4 times per day. Usually this treatment is done for 10 minute increments and pressure is applied, however, gentle pressure. An easy way to make an ice cross friction massage tool is to freeze water in a small bathroom dixie cup and then peel down to ice and use this as your cross friction icing tool
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Summing It Up
Avoiding CTS if the most advisable route to take by all means. However, if you are experiencing symptoms, it is not too late to treat them. The above are completely natural ways to treat this syndrome, however, if symptoms do not resolve, surgery is sometimes necessary to alleviate the syndrome.
It should be noted, however, that one thing physicians and providers are not very up-front about telling the patient is that if you return to the activity (job or hobby) that was causing the syndrome in the first place, it will return and may even be more intense. This further leads us to realize that preventing it in the first place or curing it as much as possible is probably the best course of action.