Carpal tunnel is an inflammation of a nerve in the hand called the median nerve. The nerve passes through the wrist in a small compartment called the carpal tunnel. If the pressure inside the tunnel increases the nerve reacts by becoming inflamed. Pressure increases can be caused by inflammation of the forearm tendons that also pass through the tunnel or increases in fluid pressure from fluid retention such as in pregnancy.
I have treated many cases of carpal tunnel in my practice and many patients make three big mistakes that really adversely affect their prognosis.
Mistake Number One: Get a Proper Diagnosis
There are a number of conditions that cause hand pain and numbness. For example there is another nerve can not become irritated in the little finger side of the hand called the ulnar nerve. If you've ever stuck the “funny bone” of your elbow what you've felt is the ulnar nerve. Another condition causes pain and swelling in the thumb tendons located in the wrist area. Many times people come to me thinking they have carpal tunnel when in reality they have a different condition. If they attempt to correct it themselves they can make the condition worse. Getting a diagnosis from a competent licensed health care practitioner will go a long way in healing.
Mistake Number Two: Get Treatment Early
This sounds simple but it is surprising how many people wait until the later stages of the disease until getting treatment. They try to wait out the disease in hopes it will resolve on its own. Occidentally it does but many times it continues to progress until it becomes a severe problem that requires a good deal of care.
One of the first signs of carpal tunnel is night numbness. This is a numbness that wakes you up at night and is not affected by changes in position. The numbness is generally in the thumb and first three fingers. If treatment is started during this stage the prognosis is good and many times little treatment is needed. If the problem progresses to constant numbness or pain, more treatment is generally needed. If the problem becomes severe with muscle weakness or wasting and constant pain or numbness then there is less of a chance for success with non-medical intervention.
Mistake Number Three: Eliminate the Cause
This seems like common sense, but many busy practitioners often do not have time to examine a patient's workstation ergonomically or question a patient about things that could have caused the problem. Many times I have seen people have several episodes of carpal tunnel largely because they never eliminated the cause in the first place. For example, there is a coworker of mine who just had several steroid injections over a period of several months for carpal tunnel and elbow tendonitis. I took one look at his workstation and was amazed that he did not have these problems sooner. No one had talked to him about changing his workstation or even mentioned it through his treatment.
Almost every time I go to the grocery store I see people working at the checkout wearing carpal tunnel braces. These are called cock-up splints or night splints. The reason they are called night splints is because they are only to be worn at night. The idea is that carpal tunnel is an inflammatory process and the infection tends to build up at night, which is one reason there is night numbness. Also, the splint has a plastic or metal piece embedded in it that holds the wrist in a position to decrease the pressure in the tunnel. Putting stress on the area by working and performing repetitive movements works to increase the pressure in the area.
What You Can Do
What can you do if you have been given a diagnosis of carpal tunnel? There are a number of non-medical ways to treat carpal tunnel. Exercises such as wrist stretches help to reduce tendonitis of the wrist flexor tendons. Certain nutrients have also been found to be helpful. These include:
Vitamin B6 – up to 300 mg per day initially for the first 3 months then decrease the dose to 100 mg.
Magnesium – 250 mg per day. Nerve problems like carpal tunnel are a sign of magnesium deficiency.
Natural Anti-inflammatory substances such as:
Many of the above substances can be found in the local health food store.
Other effective treatments include ultrasound. I use ultrasound in nearly every carpal tunnel case and have found it to be extremely effective. Electrical stimulation such as concurrent current may also help to reduce inflation. Alternative modalities such as chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture have also been found to be effective.
Lastly, really getting at the cause and working to eliminate it will help you to heal and avoid future episodes. If you do a lot of keyboarding it is helpful to adjust your seat so that your feet are flat on the floor, elbows close to your sides, and wrists as straight as possible. One of the worst positions is keyboarding with your wrists bent at the sides. Technically this position is called ulnar deviation and becomes worse as the elbows move sideways away from your body. If you use arm rests to be careful they are not too far apart.
Carpal tunnel can be a serious problem and in some cases surgery or steroid injections are the only options left. However, if you follow the above guidelines you will do your best to avoid a costly and expensive procedure.