The goal of any treatment approach for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is to return the patient to normal. That means addressing all OTHER health-related conditions that can cause CTS such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, birth control pill use, pregnancy, rheumatoid arthritis (and many of the other related arthritic-like disorders), as well as double or multiple crush (pinched nerve) syndromes. That’s right! CTS can be caused by MANY other conditions besides simply overusing the arms and hands. When overuse PLUS any of the above mentioned conditions “gang-up” on you, managing BOTH is necessary.
One “universal” goal in CTS treatment is to reduce inflammation. This can be accomplished by several approaches: 1) STOP, reduce, and/or modify the causing activity. Examples include repetitive use of a hammer, screw driver, stapler, assembly line work, typing/computer work, driving with a firm grip on the steering wheel, bicycle riding, and MANY more! The key to successful management of CTS is to slow down, stop/rest, and for long-term success, change how the task is performed (modify the workstation). 2) Wearing a cock-up wrist splint. This is usually restricted to night time use since we cannot control our wrist position while sleeping and the pressure inside the carpal tunnel “normally” doubles at the extremes of the wrist forwards or backwards. Thus, keeping the wrist straight at night significantly reduces or eliminates the numbness/tingling that can cause multiple sleep interruptions. It can also be worn during the day IF it doesn’t interfere with the person’s activity. If the activity requires frequent bending of the wrist, you’ll end up fighting against the wrist splint and that can actually worsen your CTS! 3) Ice cupping or massage. Freeze water in a Styrofoam or paper Dixie cup (like home-made popsicles) and peel away the top third to expose the ice. Rub it over the palm side of the wrist until you feel numbness. At first, it will feel Cold, followed by Burning, Aching, and finally Numbness (hence the acronym, “C-BAN”). The length of time to achieve numbness is usually three to five minutes, but make sure you quit at the point of numbness as the next stage is frostbite! 4) Anti-inflammatory nutrients. An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, omega-3 fatty acids, and avoids glutens, omega-6 fatty acids (fast foods, etc.), and refined carbohydrates (sweets, sodas, etc.). Also, there are many REALLY GOOD nutritional supplements that can effectively reduce inflammation without the typical side-effects that affect the stomach, liver, or kidneys which are common to NSAID drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Also, NSAIDs can inhibit an important chemical (a prostaglandin) that is needed for healing, and therefore, it can actually slow down the healing process (so try the nutritional approaches first)! Nutritional options include proteolytic enzymes, bromelain, papain, bioflavonoid, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, coenzyme-Q10, and many more.
Treatment options beyond those mentioned above are typically surgical, IF you decide to go to a surgeon. However, chiropractic care includes identifying and treating the source(s) of nerve irritation, as it is often more than just nerve pinching at the carpal tunnel. Other common locations of median nerve entrapment includes the pronator teres muscle in the forearm just past the elbow on the palm side, less often at the shoulder, and again quite frequently in the neck where the nerve exits the spine. If these areas of nerve pinching are not released, recovery is less likely (with or without surgery)! Bottom line: you can always have surgery but you can’t “un-do it.” Try chiropractic first as it’s the least invasive, least costly, and often the quickest way to find relief from CTS!
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