Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a condition characterized by pain, numbness, and/or tingling in the hand. This includes the palm and the 2nd, 3rd, and half of the 4th finger, usually sparing the thumb. Another indication of CTS is weakness in grip strength such as difficulty opening a jar or even holding a coffee cup. CTS can occur from many different causes, the most common being repetitive motion injuries such as assembly line or typing/computing work. Here is a PARTIAL list of potential causes of CTS: heredity (a smaller tunnel), aging (>50 years old), rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, hypothyroid, birth control pill use, trauma to the wrist (especially colles fractures), diabetes mellitus, acromegaly, the use of corticosteroids, tumors (benign or malignant), obesity (BMI>29 are 2.5 more likely), double crush (pinching of the nerve in more than one place such as the neck and the carpal tunnel), heterozygous mutations in a gene (associated with Charcot-Marie-Tooth), parvovirus b19, and others. Again, repetitive trauma is still the most common cause. It becomes quite clear that a COMPLETE physical examination must be conducted, not just evaluation of the wrist! Once the cause(s) of CTS has been nailed down, then treatment options can be considered.
From a treatment perspective, we’ve previously discussed what chiropractors typically do for CTS (spinal and extremity joint manipulation, muscle/soft tissue mobilization, physical therapy modalities such as laser, the use of a wrist splint – especially at night, work task modifications, wrist/hand/arm/neck exercises, vitamin B6, and more). But, what about using other “alternative” or non-medical approaches, especially those that can be done alongside chiropractic treatment? Here is a list of four alternative or complementary treatment options:
- Anti-inflammatory Goals: Reducing systemic inflammation reduces overall pressure on the median nerve that travels through the limited space within the carpal tunnel at the wrist. An “anti-inflammatory diet” such a Mediterranean diet, gluten-free diet, paleo-diet (also referred to as the caveman diet) can also help. Helpful herbs include arnica, bromelain, white willow bark, curcumen, ginger, turmeric, and boswellia. Vitamin/supplement approaches include bioflavinoids, vitamin B6 (and other B vitamins such as B1 and B12), vitamin C, and also omega-3 fatty acids.
- Acupuncture: Inserting very thin needles into specific acupuncture points both near the wrist and further away can unblock energy channels (called meridians), improve energy flow, release natural pain reducing chemicals (endorphins and enkephlins), promote circulation, and balance the nervous system. For CTS, the acupuncture points are located on the wrist, arm, thumb, hand, neck, upper back, and leg. The number of sessions varies, dependent on how long the CTS has been present, the person’s overall health, and the severity of the condition.
- Laser acupuncture: The use of a low level (or “cold” laser) or a class IV pulsed laser over the same acupuncture points as mentioned above can have very similar beneficial effects (without needles)! One study found even post-surgical patients with poor outcomes experienced improvement after 3 laser treatments per week for 4-5 weeks!
- Acupressure: Acupuncture point stimulation with manual pressure. These points can be self-stimulated by the CTS sufferer multiple times a day via deep rubbing techniques.
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