Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition of the hand and arm that is characterized by pain, tingling and other problems in the hand due to pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. Bound by ligaments, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located on the palm side of the wrist. Running from the forearm to the hand through this small space, the median nerve controls movement and feeling in the thumb and first three fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when pressure on the median nerve causes the nerve to get trapped. There are several things that can lead to carpal tunnel such as illnesses including diabetes, thyroid conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, obesity, wrist injuries or bone spurs, repetitive hand movements and even fluid retention from pregnancy or menopause. Smoking can also be a culprit as it reduces blood flow to the median nerve.
Carpal tunnel affects both sexes, although it is more common in women and is most often present between the ages of 30-60. Symptoms of carpal tunnel include tingling, numbness, weakness and pain in the fingers and hand and typically occur in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of the ring finger. Many people first experience pain at night.
If there is pain present in the pinky finger or the back of the wrist, carpal tunnel can be ruled out. When the nerve becomes trapped at other locations such as near the elbow, the symptoms can be similar to carpal tunnel but treatment is different. Often times surgery is recommended for carpal tunnel and in cases where there may be a misdiagnosis, surgery on the wrist will not help at all so it is very important for patients to get an accurate diagnosis and have a thorough understanding of the causes of carpal tunnel.
The exam and diagnosis should seek to uncover the reasons why the wrist is becoming inflamed and/ or restricted. The doctor may check the feeling, strength and appearance of the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and neck and may recommend tests from blood work (to determine any underlying health concerns) to nerve tests aimed specifically at evaluating the function of the median nerve. Once a determination has been made that a patient does in fact have carpal tunnel, the doctor should pinpoint where the nerve is entrapped.
Treatments for carpal tunnel vary and can include icing the wrist or wearing a splint (for minor cases), stretching and distraction, cold laser therapy, muscle stimulation and adjustment to extremities with the goal of restoring normal motion in the joints. Treatments for carpal tunnel have proven very successful for patients and it is possible to keep carpal tunnel from returning. As always, monitoring and keeping up with your basic health is very important; try to maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke and exercise to stay strong and flexible. Some additional tips to aid the well being of hands and wrists include keeping wrists in a neutral position, using the whole hand (not just the fingers) to hold objects and if possible, switch hands during repetitive motion.
For patients seeking more individualized care for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, chiropractic neurology can be a great option. Chiropractic neurologists are experts in individualized care and as such, will first address all the joints and muscles involved in order to remove the compression on the median nerve. Typical treatments may include chiropractic adjustments, neuromuscular reeducation, cold laser therapy and stretching and strengthening. However, as with all chiropractic neurology care plans, each plan depends on the patients needs.
If you or a loved one are suffering from pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, or you would like to find out more, please contact Dr Ellis at the Georgia Chiropractic Neurology Center to schedule a consultation.