What is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve, a nerve that travels from the forearm, through the wrist along a passageway called the carpal tunnel, and into the palm of the hand. The median nerve controls feeling and movement of parts of the hand. Anything that puts pressure on the median nerve (i.e., inflammation of the wrist area) can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, which can cause tingling, numbness, weakness of the hand, and pain in the wrist area.
Older people are at greater risk for carpal tunnel syndrome than younger people. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), carpal tunnel syndrome affects between 3 and 6 percent of the overall population, and is most common among middle-aged women.
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually affects the dominate hand, but can affect both hands nearly for nearly half of all sufferers. The majority of cases have been remedied using alternative therapies over a period of several weeks or months, without having to resort to surgery.
The purpose of this article is to help you understand what carpal tunnel is,its causes and risk factors, and what to do if you have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel.
What are the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel is one of the most common repetitive motion injuries, and mayaffect those most who live sedentary lives, but tend to work jobs with repetitive activities. This can include working at a computer, hammering, or using a screwdriver, to name a few. It is also important to understand that overall general health, including obesity, can put one at risk for carpal tunnel, poor circulation being a key factor. Exercise increases blood circulation, burns fat, and reduces the risk of injuries across the spectrum- another reason to invest in a local gym membership.
Repetitive motion is not the only cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, just the most common. I knew someone who injured herself in a car accident, which caused injury to her wrist area resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome.
Are there natural remedies for carpal tunnel syndrome, or is surgery my only option?
Most cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, approximately 95%, are healed without having to resort to surgery. Generally, if the carpal tunnel symptoms have lasted anywhere between 6 and 12 months, with persistent (not intermittent) numbness, and increasingly unbearable pain, you may be a candidate for surgery. Speak with your physician to discuss your options.
Of course, people are different, which is why there is notjust one road to rehabilitation. Here are a few treatment paths that can also be taken simultaneously to achieve full, permanent recovery:
- Rest- By identifying and eliminating, or at least modifying, the repetitive motion activity that caused your injury, you have started the road to recovery.
- Icepack- Wrap ice in a cloth and apply to the wrist area to reduce inflammation and temporarily kill the pain. It is important that you do not use heat, because this can have the effect of increasing inflammation.
- Wrist brace- This will splint the hand so that the wrist becomes immobile, enabling you to rest the affected area throughout the day and night. Wrist braces that are comfortable will help you to relax without risk of aggravating the rest, allowing you to get more quality rest. Important: do not use an Ace bandage! This will cut off circulation and make the problem worse.
- Hand exercises- Gently rotate the wrists around in circles several times a day to increase circulation and reduce inflammation. Don’t force yourself. Do only as much as you can tolerate. If you can, also try raising your arms over your head while rotating your wrists at the same time.
- Ergonomics- Ergonomic equipment for the office include the v-shaped keyboard and mouse with wrist pad. The ergonomic keyboard is designed to reduce strain by complementing the natural form of the human hands when typing. Ergonomics is not limited to equipment.
- Herbs- Some herbs that have been proven to have beneficial effects on carpal tunnel are:
- Aloe Vera
- Wintergreen oil
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Yoga- Yoga accelerates the heart rate, stretches connective tissue, messages organs, stimulates deep breathing and teaches correct posture. It has been linked to improvements in musculoskeletal system, and over time can provide significant relief to carpal tunnel syndrome.If your wrist and hands are strong enough to achieve the various positions, yoga is certainly worth the effort. Benefits that can be expected are improved grip strength and reduced pain.
- Acupuncture- Acupuncture is an effective alternative to surgery. By the insertion of thin needles into certain meridian points in the body, blockages that cause pain are released along energy pathways. The number of treatments will depend on the severity of pain and the state of your health.
- Acupressure-Acupressure is based on the same philosophy as acupuncture, minus the needles, where the practitioner places pressure on the affected area— a good alternative if you have an aversion to being stuck with pins and needles.
- Vitamin B6-Vitamin B6 deficiency has been associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. It is important that you take moderate amounts, because high doses can cause nerve damage. Speak to your physician before starting a vitamin B6 regimen.
- Chiropractor-Realignment of the skeletal structure is important for overall health, and can also be beneficial for relieving carpal tunnel symptoms.
- Exercise and weight loss-Exercise accelerates the heart rate, increases blood flow, strengthens connective tissue, and minimizes the odds of future injury. Excess weight around the forearm and wrist area can compress the median nerve, so relief of carpal tunnel syndrome is one additional benefit of exercising.
Now that you have a solid foundation for what carpal tunnel syndrome is, its causes, and alternative treatment options, speak to your physician to determine your level of severity, and map out the next steps of your recovery.