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A Light at the End of the Tunnel


Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is caused by compression of, or damage to, the median nerve by fibres of the flexor retinaculum. Translation? Pain and tingling..

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is caused by compression of, or damage to, the median nerve by fibres of the flexor retinaculum. Translation? Pain and tingling. Burning. Numbness in the hand about the thumb, palm and first three fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is generally caused by repetitive motions of your wrists–as well as by repetitive heavy vibration to your hands and wrists. Injury or compression of this median nerve can also be caused by water retention or swelling from pregnancy, inflammatory arthritis, tendinitis or even bone spurs.

Until computers became common, this syndrome was relatively rare. Secretaries, clerks, bookkeepers and cashiers were once the main sufferers. Nowadays, anyone who works a keyboard can develop this syndrome. Occupations in construction, hair styling, athletics, driving, music, restaurant service and assembly line work all share the dubious honor of being associated with CTS. Women are more likely to be affected, especially those between the ages of 29 and 62.

Raynaud’s, hypothyroidism, diabetes, pregnancy and menopause all increase your risk of developing this syndrome. Numbness, pain and tingling aren’t the only symptoms. The muscles in your thumb might atrophy to the point of being crippled. Your carpal tunnel doesn’t only house the median nerve–the tendons for 10 muscles also travel through this restricted space. Repetitive motions can irritate and cause these tendons to swell, compressing the neighboring median nerve. Usually symptoms are worse at night. If your thumb is losing strength, seek treatment immediately. This symptom could indicate that the median nerve is becoming damaged.

Getting a diagnosis used to be difficult. Soft tissue (muscle and tendon) problems don’t show up on X-rays, so physicians would test the median nerve on your wrist by tapping it. If you reacted with pain or with an "electric shock" sensation, then CTS was the likely suspect. A simpler method is placing the backs of your hands together, fingers pointing down from the wrists at a 90 degree angle, with your elbows aimed straight out to the sides. Hold for one minute. If holding this position creates sensations of numbness, tingling, pain–or even clumsiness of your thumb and first three fingers, the syndrome has probably settled in. While this test is fairly accurate, only an electromyographic test (EMG) is completely conclusive. It shows that the nerve impulses through the median nerve are slowed and reveals damage or compression to those nerves.

Wrist Support

Permanent relief entails more commitment, usually involving a variety of approaches. Natural treatments revolve around minimizing wrist flex (possibly temporarily immobilizing the wrist with splints) and adjusting posture (keeping your forearms level with the desktop, sitting upright.) No slouching! Rest and ice the wrist.

Camomile, feverfew, valerian, wood betony, devil’s claw, yarrow, scullcap and cayenne reduce inflammation and pain. Ginkgo biloba improves blood circulation throughout the body and normalizes nerve function. Uva ursi, corn silk, parsley, celery seed and dandelion reduce excess fluids in the body.

Silica is a trace mineral with anti-inflammatory properties and is useful for strengthening connective tissues. Wrap the wrist in a warm bandage with diluted silica gel, twice daily for 30 minutes at a time. You might also try massaging on wintergreen oil, arnica or camomile ointment. A cream containing arnica, choline, pyridoxine and camphor (developed by an orthopedic surgeon) is now available. If you can’t find it, add arnica, lecithin, B6 and camphor (from the health store) to some unscented cream and make your own.

It has been suggested that those deficient in B6 are more likely to develop this syndrome, so 100 milligrams (mg) of B6 daily will alleviate symptoms. It is vitally important that whenever any single B vitamin is taken in large quantities that a good B complex accompanies it. The B vitamins require each other for proper breakdown and use in your body. Otherwise, large amounts of B6 can actually damage sensory nerves in your hands, causing numbness in the hands and feet, as well as trouble walking.

For those who don’t experience any relief with B6, take the working form of this vitamin, pyridoxal-5’-phosphate (50 mg, three times daily). It could be that you are having trouble with this conversion. Once things are back to normal, add nutritional yeast and blackstrap molasses to your menus. These are rich sources of B-complex vitamins, as well as trace minerals and iron. All of these are essential to regaining and maintaining good health.

Get Shaking

Take a break from repetitive wrist movements every half hour and shake those wrists! Place your palms together, each at a 90-degree angle from your forearms. Push the heels of your hands together, then fingers and fingertips. Bend your fingers back. Another exercise is to extend one arm straight out in front of you, level with the shoulder. With the other hand, passively stretch the wrist of your extended arm so that the fingers point to the ceiling. Hold for 10 seconds, then passively aim these fingers to the floor and again hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Alter activities at regular intervals through your workday, rather than typing for hours on end.

Use a wrist pad when working on the computer keyboard or mouse. Keep the keyboard directly in front of you, and the computer screen at least two feet from you, with the top of the screen just below eye level. When your wrist and hands are stiff or sore, relax them in warm water. If there is swelling, use ice instead.

Reducing weight has lessened pressure on the carpal tunnel. Homeopathics like Rhus toxicondendron and Ruta graveolens have both helped CTS sufferers reduce swelling and pain.

Try adding some pineapple (for the bromelain) to your daily diet for a possible reduction of pain and swelling.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD