When we hear the word carpal tunnel, our minds often jump to wrist pain caused by typing or poor posture at work. But that isn’t the whole story. Carpal tunnel syndrome is actually caused by a perfect storm of risk factors, all of which have an effect on the median nerve and the carpal tunnel tendons of your wrist.
These risk factors include having a wrist fracture, being a woman (women’s carpal tunnels are smaller than men’s), activities that cause prolonged or repetitive flexing of the wrist, and suffering from conditions that cause nerve damage (diabetes), inflammation (rheumatoid arthritis) or changes in the balance of bodily fluids (pregnancy or menopause). However, anything that irritates or compresses the median nerve in your wrist can contribute to this condition.
Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome should soon after diagnosis, so the condition doesn’t get worse. Initial treatments focus on giving the wrist some rest and applying ice packs to reduce swelling. However, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often persist. For some doctors, corticosteroids and surgery are seen as the only options for treatment. To us, they’re more like last resorts.
After all, if you can experience relief through other means, why would you put your body through needless trauma? In this blog, I’ll go over some of the treatment options available to you. In some cases a combination of treatments works better than just one.
Treat the Cause, Before the Condition
As previously mentioned, carpal tunnel is exacerbated by other pre-existing conditions like diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, thyroid problems, pregnancy, menopause, wrist fractures, etc. — and these conditions should always be considered first. If it’s possible to treat the potential cause, start there, and if you’re still experiencing symptoms afterward, move on to other options.
It should come as no surprise to you that this appears at the top of my list. Am I a little biased? Maybe. But I’m also the one who sees positive changes in my patients when the treatment is successful. As we all know, the spine is the great connector, the center of the nervous system. And often, the pain in your hands and wrists can be relieved with focused adjustments to the spine and joints. Plus, returning your spine to its proper alignment helps the body heal itself more quickly.
Many patients have also experienced relief through acupuncture. Acupuncture reduces inflammation and the pain in the wrist and addresses the headaches, shoulder stiffness, neck pain and sleeping problems that often accompany carpal tunnel syndrome. And it does this all without drugs or surgery. But, if you do opt for surgery down the line, acupuncture can hasten the recovery process.
Do some searching online and you’ll see that stretching and strengthening exercises are often recommended for people with carpal tunnel syndrome. And I agree with that. However, yoga is typically the stretching and strengthening exercise of choice. As you may be aware, chiropractors are not yoga’s biggest fans. In general, we feel that some of the more complicated poses have the potential to do more harm than good.
However, stretching and balancing can reduce pain, increase mobility and improve grip. In contrast, the exercises chiropractors typically prescribe are easier on the spine and customized to your condition. However, some patients do experience some relief with yoga, and that should not be discounted. You have to find out what works for you — and if yoga is your answer, please pay attention to your form!
Splinting is an easy home remedy that holds the wrist in place, preventing further damage. It is especially useful at night, as it relieves the numbness and tingling that many patients experience while they are trying to sleep. You can purchase a splint at most drugstores or pharmacies. When you’re ready to put it on, just remember, it should feel snug – not tight.
We sometimes prescribe an ultrasound for carpal tunnel syndrome, because it sends sound waves deep into muscle tissue — this increases circulation, relaxes muscles and reduces inflammation and pain.
Medication and Surgery
If these alternative therapies do not work, medication or surgery may be recommended. Drugs that ease pain and swelling include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, aspirin and non-prescription pain relievers, as well as corticosteroids like Prednisone and Lidocaine, both of which require a doctor’s prescription.
Open carpal tunnel surgery and endoscopic surgery are common surgical procedures for carpal tunnel syndrome. They are typically recommended if symptoms last for more than six months. Just remember, what’s right for someone else, may not be right for you. If you want to explore alternative treatments further, consult your doctor or chiropractor. In the end, we all have the same goal – to help you feel like yourself again.
About The Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.