According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) “is the most common entrapment neuropathy, affecting approximately 3 to 6 percent of adults in the general population,” of whom 500,000 people decide to undergo surgical procedures to correct the condition.
In the United States, carpal tunnel syndrome is the fastest growing occupational illness, annually causing workers to lose thousands of work days and costing the economy billions of dollars in medical services. In the past, CTS was mostly limited to people working in the manual labor industry, but a trend has been rising recently in the computer industry as well, which makes up 45 to 75 million of the American workforce.
Often regarded as one of the most common diseases of the modern workplace, carpal tunnel syndrome is defined as the result of one or more factors that increase the pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel. Initial symptoms include pain in the wrist, numbness, tingling, burning sensation, or a combination affecting the index, middle, and ring fingers (the fifth finger is usually not affected). It is not uncommon for the symptoms to radiate to the elbow and shoulder.
Occupational causes include:
- Repetitive hand or wrist movements such as gripping, extension, or flexion, ulnar/radial deviation, and supination or pronation
- Wrist posture and shape at work
- Awkward hand positions
- The use of vibrating tools
- Desk height
- The angle of the elbows
According to the CDC, the occupations most commonly associated with CTS include: farmer, assembly-line worker, painter, mechanic, janitor, musician, cashier, electronic industry worker, locksmith, factory worker, receipt processor, carpenter, and others.
Non-occupational causes include:
- Congenital predisposition (the carpal tunnel is smaller in some individuals than in others)
- Trauma (sprains, strains, and dislocations) or injury to the wrist
- Over-activity of the pituitary gland
- Mechanical problems in the wrist joint
- Use of oral contraceptives
- Fluid retention in pregnant and menopausal women
- Smoking (can affect the blood flow to the median nerve)
- Wear and tear of the tissues due to aging
Medical disorders associated with carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Tumors or cysts of tendon sheaths
- Mental stress
- Alcohol abuse
After being diagnosed with CTS, many people whose symptoms last for more than six months opt for surgery. The two types of invasive procedures, namely open release surgery and endoscopic surgery, are performed under local anesthesia and don’t require an overnight hospital stay. However, surgery alone is not a remedy for carpal tunnel syndrome; often, patients must undergo rehabilitation and therapy to relieve all the symptoms. In financial terms, an individual who opts for tunnel release surgery can end up paying up to $29,000 in surgery costs (Medicare database estimate for the tunnel release surgery is $8,185), rehabilitation, therapy, and work expenses.
For those with less severe symptoms, there are several non-surgical treatments that can help treat and prevent the disorder. Carpal tunnel syndrome is often treated very effectively by specialized chiropractors, whose methods include: joint manipulation, mobilization of the wrist and hand, ice therapy, massage therapy, stretching and strengthening exercises, ultrasound therapy, and wrist supports.
Through manipulation of the wrist, arm, and spine, your chiropractor will be able to correct improper alignments in the spine and eliminate the causes that contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome. During treatment, the patient may be advised to limit the use of the affected arm, apply ice packs to reduce the inflammation, and perform certain exercises to increase mobility. All practices are non-invasive and completely safe, especially compared to surgery and drug therapy.
As with any other repetitive stress injuries, however, the progress of the treatment can vary from patient to patient and is usually determined by factors such as age, overall health of the patient, nature and severity of the injury, and the use of complementary therapies. To find out more about the specifics of your condition, contact your local chiropractor and request a free examination today.
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.