Hand Numbness, Pain and Weakness: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosis and Treatment Options

(Photo Credit: healthjolt)
(Photo Credit:  healthjolt)
(Photo Credit: healthjolt)

In Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the median nerve is impinged at a point in the wrist where it passes through a narrow, tunnel-like opening. The carpal tunnel is formed by the transverse carpal ligament and two bones in the wrist: the hammate and pisiform.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome include:

* Numbness or tingling in the thumb and first two fingers

* Wrist pain or hand pain

* Weakness in the wrist and hand (poor grip strength, trouble lifting and carrying items)

* Difficulty moving the hand and fingers

* Muscle Atrophy

If you have been suffering from any of the above symptoms, it is a good idea to determine whether it is because of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Although it is best to see a doctor for a definitive diagnosis, there are some quick tests you can try at home.

1. Tinel’s Sign: Hold your symptomatic hand out, palm up. Tap firmly and quickly on the center of the wrist crease for several seconds. If this tapping aggravates your symptoms, it may be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

2. Phalen’s Test: Bend your elbows and press the backs of your hands together in front of your chest. Fingers should be pointing down and the wrists bent at a ninety degree angle. Hold this position for one full minute. Any worsening of symptoms suggests Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

3. Reverse Phalen’s Test: Press the palms of your hands together in a prayer position. Lower your wrists and forearms as far as you can without allowing your hands to separate. Hold this position for one minute. Again, any flare-up of symptoms suggests Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

There are several possible triggers of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Because the tunnel the median nerve passes through is so narrow, it may become entrapped if there is any inflammation, fluid, or scar tissue within the tunnel. This, in turn, may be due to overuse, fluid retention, obesity, misalignment of the wrist or other joints, or a cyst or tumor in the wrist.

Choosing the Right Treatment for You

It is imperative to educate yourself on the treatment options available to you, so that you may make an informed decision as to whether to choose allopathic medicine (most M.D.s, or Medical Doctors) or alternative medicine (Chiropractic and/or Acupuncture). Read on to understand these very different approaches, and be sure to read my recommendations at the end.

Allopathic Medicine for Carpal Tunnel:

The traditional western medicine approach involves doctors performing orthopedic, nerve conduction velocity, and electromyography tests to diagnose Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Treatment options include wearing a brace for a few weeks, taking NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) like Ibuprofen, corticosteroid injections, and ergonomic evaluation and modification.

Although ergonomic evaluation and counseling is a good idea, there are many drawbacks with the other therapies in this model. Wearing a brace takes several weeks and is often ineffective. Taking NSAIDs may minimize pain and inflammation, but this is a band aid rather than a solution. Moreover, long-term use of NSAIDS involves a risk of serious side effects and complications like ulcers (bleeding in the stomach or gut). Corticosteroids are also effective in minimizing inflammation, but they, too, fail to address what triggered the inflammation, and repeated injections may lead to negative consequences for the wrist ligaments, immune system, and the adrenal glands.

The above measures often fail to provide relief, so that over 50% of people who try the above methods eventually resort to surgery. The surgical “solution” is to cut the transverse carpal ligament to make more room for the median nerve. Destroying this ligament destabilizes the contents of the carpal tunnel. Although surgery provides relief for some, it entails a recovery period of weeks of limited use and physical therapy. Moreover, there is a risk that scar tissue from the surgery may re-impinge the median nerve.

The allopathic medicine approach has no therapies that address misalignments in the wrist or other parts of the spine. In fact, most medical doctors are not trined to identify or treat such types of misalignments.

Alternative Medicine for Carpal Tunnel:

Besides orthopedic testing, alternative medicine doctors use palpation and muscle testing to identify the underlying cause of the problem. Expect an exam that evaluates the whole body rather than only focusing on the problem area.

Palpation helps identify any misalignments that can irritate the median nerve. Muscle testing and biofeedback (called Professional Applied Kinesiology (PAK)) is another valuable tool in diagnosing and treating the cause of Carpal Tunnel symptoms. Treatment options include chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture, and treatments may address other problem areas besides the wrist.

Chiropractic has an impressive track record for resolving the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Often these symptoms result from misalignment(s) of the wrist, elbow, shoulder, and/or neck. In such cases, chiropractic adjustments can quickly and easily remove pressure from the median nerve, eliminate pain, and restore normal joint and muscle mechanics. Mild soreness sometimes follows the adjustment but resolves within a day.

An acupuncturist will evaluate your pulse and look at your tongue to determine the cause of the problem. Acupuncture treatments involve inserting a few thin, sterile needles at various points throughout the body to restore balance and provide relief. Acupuncture, supplements, and diet modification have also been effective at decreasing inflammation and providing lasting relief for many.

Recommendations:

1. Try Vitamin B6 if you are retaining too much fluid. This is a natural diuretic and may help.

2. If your job involves repetitive motions for prolonged periods, such as long hours at a keyboard, get an ergonomic evaluation to minimize the stress on your wrist.

3. For a full month, eliminate all sugar, sugar substitutes and grains from your diet. These foods all increase inflammation and therefore worsen the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

4. See a chiropractor or acupuncturist who specializes in Professional Applied Kinesiology (PAK) for natural treatments for your carpal tunnel syndrome. Go to icakusa.com and click on “Find a Doctor” to search for someone near you.

Most people respond very well to chiropractic, acupuncture, and/or supplements and dietary changes. These measures involve far fewer side effects and are less invasive than the treatments offered by medical doctors. If, however, these natural treatments fail to provide relief, let medicine and surgery be your back up plan.

Jasmine Greene is an educator on health, wellness, and holistic medicine. Are you looking for a Glen Ellyn Acupuncturist? Consider a visit to Kinesis.