Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: What You Need to Know
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects many people, causing mild symptoms such as tingling in the fingers, to severe, disabling pain, which may even lead to loss of jobs. This condition, however, may be easily prevented and treated with some basic knowledge.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that affects the hand, wrist and the lower arm, and is characterized mainly by pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. The main cause is a pinched nerve (the median nerve), which passes through a narrow opening in the palm side of the wrist.
Although this condition is common among people engaged in data-entry jobs, studies show that it is even more common among those involved in assembly-line work such as manufacturing, sewing, cleaning, finishing, and meat, poultry, and fish packing. These workers often perform repeated hand and wrist movements with awkward positions. Women are more likely to be affected, especially those who are ages 40-60, pregnant, or taking birth control pills.
Symptoms of CTS include:
- Numbness or pain in the hand, wrist or forearm, especially at night. Pain may be relieved by shaking or moving the fingers.
- Occasional tingling or “pins-and-needles” sensation.
- Numbness/pain may get worse while using the hand (ex. gripping) or wrist (ex. bending).
- Aching pain in the forearm.
- Stiffness of the fingers in the morning.
- Reduced grip strength.
- Difficulty doing simple hand movements like brushing teeth, pinching, or opening a jar.
- Thinner and weaker thumb muscle.
Other Risk Factors
Aside from repeated wrist movements, there are other factors that may increase your risk of developing CTS. These include inflammatory conditions involving the wrist, such as rheumatoid arthritis, nerve damage due to chronic disease, such as diabetes, medical conditions such as thyroid disease or menopause, and increased body fluids such as in pregnancy. Aging, smoking, tumors and injury to the wrist may also contribute to the development of CTS.
When to See a Doctor
Some people find relief from resting, changing their routines, and taking simple measures such as shaking their hands. However, if your symptoms are not relieved by simple home measures or are beginning to get worse, consult a doctor for evaluation and treatment. CTS pain and weakness of the wrist and arm can be disabling, and may affect your ability to do normal functions at home and at work.
How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are simple ways to protect your median nerve from stress and compression while you work:
- Use proper ergonomics. Make sure that your work area has the proper chair and desk height, with the computer monitor at eye level.
- Use correct posture when working.
- Reduce the force you exert at work and relax your grip.
- Take frequent work breaks and alternate your tasks.
- Do some stretching exercises during breaks.
- Avoid bending the wrist at work. Keeping the wrist relaxed at elbow level or slightly lower reduces stress on the joint.
- Use a wrist splint at work to keep it straight. It is also helpful to wear the splint at night while you sleep. However, do not wear the splint for long periods because it can weaken your muscles.
Aside from practicing healthy work habits to prevent CTS, you can also try taking some health supplements that can help support proper nerve function.
B Vitamins. Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine works with other B vitamins for maintaining proper metabolism of sugars, proteins and fats in the body. It is also important for proper growth and development, and the proper function of the brain and nerves. Studies show that it works with vitamins B1 and B12 in relieving pain associated with CTS due to their effects in inhibiting pain conduction. In one study, it was found that taking 200 mg of vitamin B6 daily may be useful in the treatment of CTS. Another study found that in combination with vitamin B2, pyridoxine can lead to complete healing of CTS. Experts warn, however, that taking very high doses of this vitamin for long periods can cause damage to the peripheral nerves (neuropathy).
Aside from taking dietary supplements, one can also obtain B vitamins from food sources, such as tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, eggs, various vegetables, including cabbage, spinach, brocolli, and cauliflower, and fruits like bananas, avocados and strawberry.
Studies suggest that a proteolytic enzyme called serrapeptase may help in the treatment of CTS. This enzyme digests protein, and has been shown to reduce swelling when taken regularly.
Fish oil. This food supplement is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory effects. When taken with selenium and vitamins A, C, and E, it can reduce inflammation in joints, as suggested by studies on people with arthritis.
Curcumin. This spice is also well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to exert curative effects in experimental animal models for diseases, including cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis, intestinal diseases, and others.
Ginger. The anti-inflammatory effects of ginger extracts have been shown to reduce cytokines (markers of inflammation), which was found in patients with joint disorders, including arthritis.
NINDS. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
WebMD. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Mayo Clinic. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
LEF. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.Nutritional Therapy To Reduce Pressure.