Navigating the Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome is an affliction of the wrist where swelling from repetitive motion pinches the median nerve. The area where this nerve enters the hand is called the “carpal tunnel,” and it is quite narrow. Any swelling will affect the nerve, causing tingling, weakness of the hand, and numbness. If ignored, symptoms can become quite painful and even permanent, but there are simple treatments that can be performed at home, and there are ways to avoid the ailment entirely.
Causes and Prevention
Any prolonged, repetitive motion of the hand can cause carpal tunnel, and the most common is typing on a computer. Other activities include writing,working with hand tools or small machines, sports, and even driving. Factory assembly work can also be a contributor.
Certain medical conditions can cause carpal tunnel, such as arthritis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, alcoholism, and kidney issues. Obesity and pregnancy have also been known to trigger carpal tunnel.
During any prolonged task that involves the wrists, change positions when possible, take occasional breaks to stretch and massage the wrists, and use gel wrist rests when typing if the wrists are at an angle. The key with typing at length is to keep the wrist straight, so even some soft splints can help to prevent wrist pain. During any activity, use whatever ergonomic aids are available, and always stop when pain or tingling begin.
The median nerve is associated with the fingers on the thumb-side of the hand, so numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, or middle finger are a strong indicator of carpal tunnel. Other signs might be tingling or numbness in the palm or entire hand, pain that extends from the wrist to the elbow, a loss of dexterity when manipulating small objects, or weakness when carrying items such as suitcases.
When caught early, carpal tunnel can be halted and often reversed completely. To start, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or “NSAIDs”) such as ibuprofen can help to relieve wrist pressure.
1) Ice: the very best, completely natural treatment for carpal tunnel is ice and rest. Icing the wrist reduces inflammation, which improves circulation and promotes healing.
2) Vitamin C: this vitamin helps to repair damaged tissues; find it in fruits and vegetables or as a supplement. Another to watch for is “bromelain,” well-known to the medical field for anti-inflammatory properties, and found in pineapple, papaya, and kiwi or in supplements.
3) Epsom salts: prepare a soak of Epsom salts and water that is as hot as can be tolerated and immerse the wrist for three minutes. Next, soak the wrist in cold water for half a minute. Popular with athletes, this “hot cold” method is proven to reduce swelling and pain.
4) Massage: to reduce swelling and stimulate circulation, massage the affected wrist, hand, and forearm. Herbal oils can aid this and come in a variety of types and scents, amping the effects and soothing both body and mind.
To prevent permanent damage, contact a physician if symptoms persist, or if there seems to be a loss of muscle in the fingers or hand. If carpal tunnel does not respond to basic treatment, a doctor may prescribe Naproxen, and he may suggest wrist splints while sleeping. For more severe cases, he might refer patients to an occupational therapist or prescribe corticosteroid injections. The worst cases generally require surgery, but the outcome depends on severity and the length of time the nerve has been affected. Carpal tunnel surgery is nearly always successful, but recovery can take several months.