Carpal tunnel syndrome used to be a condition mostly experienced by data entry personnel, store check- out clerks, or assembly line workers. In today’s digital world, however, carpal tunnel syndrome has a much wider scope; with the prevalence of computer use, texting and video games, nearly anyone can suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition is the result of any recurring motion, such as typing, and strikes those whose hands are in a fixed position for long periods of time while performing repetitive tasks. Some disease processes, like diabetes, hypothyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis increase your risks of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, as can obesity and pregnancy. It is currently one of the most common strain injuries, accounting for many soft tissue injuries and resulting in lost time from work. The pain can keep you awake at night, leading to chronic sleep loss and associated illness.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Overview
Carpal tunnel syndrome is pressure applied to the median nerve as it makes its journey through a narrow passageway in your wrist, which is more commonly called the carpal tunnel. Because this nerve controls all feeling and movement in almost all your fingers including your thumb, the condition is painful and results in limited mobility of your hand, wrist, arm and fingers. This compression usually is caused by swelling. To understand how the condition progresses, it’s important to understand the anatomy of your hand and arm. Your wrist is the complex joint at the end of the radius and ulna, the two bones in your lower arm. It is made up from eight separate bones called the carpal bones. These bones make a nice, hollow tunnel through which the nerves pass through the wrist, and into our hands. The nerves are arranged perfectly and kept in place with the anterior annular ligament, or the flexor reticulum. The median nerve controls most of our fingers; the pointer fingers, thumbs, and a part of our ring and middle fingers are controlled by the median nerve. The median nerve passes from the carpal tunnel, up the arm, through our shoulder, and to our neck and upper thoracic spine. When this median nerve becomes pinched or compressed, we experience pain and limited mobility.
Carpal tunnel can be caused in several ways:
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis that causes swelling and inflammation
- Pressure placed directly on the median nerve for extended time frames
- Damage to the carpal tunnel structure, such as a dislocation or fracture
- Any injury that causes a misalignment of the carpal tunnel bones that results in their collapse
- Repetitive movements that will result in swelling of the membranes around the tendons. This swelling is called tenosynovitis.
If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can have major negative effects on your quality of living. The median nerve itself will begin to suffer irreparable damage because of pressure and irritation, losing its functionality. If this happens, you can lose sensation in your fingers, experience extremely slow nerve impulses, and the eventual loss of your finger strength and coordination. Cramping muscles in untreated carpal tunnel syndrome will begin to become even more painful as they shrink. These damages will become permanent if the condition is not treated.
Common Symptomology of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are many symptoms when you have developed carpal tunnel syndrome. These can include:
- Decreasing grip and muscle strength
- Weakness in your hands
- Insensitivity to temperature; inability to differentiate “hot” or “cold” sensations
- Morning complaints that include stiffness in your hand or wrist and waking with tingling and numbness that may run from your hands up to your shoulder.
- A burning feeling in your hand or wrist
- Itching, numbness, or tingling in the palm of the hand and the thumb, ring, index or middle fingers
- The sensation of swelling in your fingers
- Generalized itching of the hand and wrist
- An increase of pain, numbness, or the feeling of “pins and needles” in your fingers or hand at night. These feelings will worsen at night because your hand is in a more relaxed position as you sleep.
Your Chiropractor can Treat Your Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Historically, treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome is a hit or miss program of splints, pain medicine, and usually, surgery. None of these plans have high success rates and can be far more harmful than they are helpful.
- While splinting can decrease inflammation, a splinted wrist is unable to move and can result in muscle weakness, leaving you at risk for developing the condition again.
- Pain medicines can be harmful as they can mask the pain, leaving the patient believing they are improving as the damage continues and resulting in a worsening of the condition.
- Carpal tunnel surgery can lead to more damage of the wrist and is expensive and painful. Patients who have had surgery will require intensive rehabilitation after the procedure.
Your chiropractor will focus on a whole-body approach by finding the root cause of the carpal tunnel syndrome and working to correct it. He will work to alleviate the source of the pain, pressure and inflammation of the median nerve
As you recall from our anatomy lesson, the median nerve begins at in the neck and upper thoracic spine, so chiropractic adjustments will focus on these areas. Chiropractors also will manipulate the joints of the elbow, shoulder and wrist to free the trapped median nerve, and include some exercises and stretches to regain the functionality of the wrist. Additionally, your chiropractor will use trigger point therapy and site-specific ultrasound to provide relief, along with the more traditional wrist supports to be worn at night.
Chiropractic treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome is an effective, safe and gentle way to address the root causes of the condition and provide relief from pain, swelling and immobility in a natural way, free from surgery or pain medicine. It is very helpful in easing painful conditions that involve the neck, shoulders and wrist and provides long-term relief.
Tips to Avoid Developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Naturally, the best cure for carpal tunnel syndrome is to never get it to begin with. Because most of us spend most of our work days in front of a computer, we tend to forget our posture. Good posture, however, is the foundation for avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome, so being aware of your position in front of the computer is a great start.
- Keep your keyboard further away from your body so that your forearms support the weight of your hands instead of your wrists.
- Don’t use keyboards that pull out from under the desk. These place unnecessary strain on your wrists.
- Don’t slump over the keyboard. Slouching will cause irritation to the median nerve from the neck, where it originates, all the way to your wrist.
- Sit straight in a supportive chair so that your shoulders are square with your hips. If your shoulders move forward, your balance is shifted from your hips directly to your wrists and arms.
- Take a break from repetitive computer tasks by standing and stretching a few minutes at least every half hour or so.
If you are experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, you need to understand that the condition will not cure itself. Getting prompt treatment is the key to a full recovery from carpal tunnel syndrome.