Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

        Have you ever noticed one or both of your hands “going to sleep” on you, particularly at night? Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night because a portion of your hand feels like it has been turned into a pin cushion? Although we weren’t aware at the time, this is how my dad first started experiencing the signs and symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, also referred to as CTS. Because the pain grew so slowly, my family and I ignored it. We chalked it up to odd sleeping positions, mainly because he slept mostly on his right side (where his symptoms began), and the pain and tingling weren’t occurring every night. Not thinking anything of it, he simply tried to change how he slept to relieve the tingling, but the symptoms persisted. It wasn’t until years later that we realized he may be suffering from CTS.
            Now, my father is part of the generation that believes if he’s hurt or has trouble working, he would just rub a little dirt in it (not actually, but you catch my drift), and push through the pain. Because he works with his hands day in and out, he is constantly putting strain and repetitive motion in his wrist. This repetitive motion is so common among individuals that there is even a name for it, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). My dad’s work requires him to use tools in a repetitive motion; constantly rotating screw drivers, holding on to vibrating machinery, etc., which he has been doing since his teen years. Eventually, he reached the point where he realized that the way he slept wasn’t the problem. Both hands were going numb, he was waking up multiple times in one night, and wearing braces to keep his hand in an ergonomic position…but ultimately, it was when he had to “shake the feeling back” into his hands after driving for only an hour that he realized it was more serious. The more we learned, the clearer it became – my dad had been dealing with CTS for years without a diagnosis. A lot of the time when we think of CTS, we think of it being most common in those who work with their hands, or in labor intensive jobs. But recently, as our generation has become consumed by technology, more people have begun experiencing the same tingling and numbness that my dad experienced. Those who work more frequently with computers – editors, journalists, transcriptionists, etc., seem to be more prone to CTS. Think about it; you’re sitting at a desk, putting in hours of typing to complete a project, or even writing a blog for all your followers. This action is so miniscule that we don’t necessarily think about it, but can be harmful to your functionality.
 Since CTS is one of the most common workplace injuries, I don’t want this to go unnoticed for you like it did for my dad. So, let me give you some information about CTS and ways you can alleviate any numbness or tingling should you ever experience it. The Carpal tunnel is exactly what it sounds like - it is a tunnel formed by the carpal bones in the hand. The tunnel consists of tendons connected to surrounding muscles, and the median nerve, which controls feeling and movement in the first three fingers of the hand. When CTS occurs, it’s due to the median nerve being compressed because of swelling. Several factors can cause this swelling, ranging from a medical condition or pregnancy to repetitive labor, like in my dad’s case. Because of this swelling, the compression renders the median nerve unable to communicate with some of the surrounding muscles in the hand, ultimately causing the numb or tingling sensation that most experience in those three fingers. This compression can also cause weakness of the hand, which is a common symptom experienced by those with CTS.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what you can do to relieve the pain if you are experiencing this. Well, traditionally, we automatically think of the ER, going to the doctor for a consultation for surgery or even injections. These treatments are considered invasive and aggressive and are, unfortunately, the most commonly suggested treatments for this condition. However, there is some information that tends to be left out during the suggestion of these treatments. If you choose to receive injections, it means you’ll have to go back over time for more injections, because injections aren’t permanent – they’re temporary. So, this is not a one-time-fix. I want to emphasize that this isn’t treating the problem, it’s masking it.  It removes the pain, but the root of the problem is still there. Often, the symptoms return and are typically worse each time the injection wears off.
Surgery - another commonly recommended treatment. Surgery is meant to remove any irritation of the median nerve as it runs through the carpal tunnel. It consists of cutting the transverse carpal ligament, which crosses over and holds down the nerve and tendons running through the tunnel. While it does provide instant and short-term relief, we often see symptoms return as early as a few years later as the result of scar tissue buildup. Typically, patients choose to continue with more surgery, perpetuating this invasive cycle. As I do with most issues, I recommend a more natural and less invasive way to treat CTS.
Chiropractic is a non-invasive, alternative method to treating CTS, being endorsed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and the University of Maryland Medical Center. When CTS is left untreated, permanent damage can occur, leaving part of the hand numb or permanently weakened. A chiropractor can help trace the path of the median nerve from the wrist, all the way through the elbow and shoulder, to the spinal cord where it originates.  This allows your chiropractor to pinpoint the origin of interference, remove it and allow the nerve to operate unhindered, beginning the process of healing. This isn’t an instant process; it does take some time for your body to rid these symptoms. However, in the long run – you will most likely be able to avoid surgery. Now, there are some cases where surgery is necessary, but I always recommend using it as your last resort, because there are many cases where surgery is completely avoidable. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I encourage you to visit your chiropractor to learn more about what treatment will be best for you, above all else.