“When I try to thread a needle, button my shirt, or crochet, I can’t seem to feel my finger tips. I’ve also noticed when unscrewing jars, my grip feels weak. In fact, I almost dropped a cup of coffee the other day. I wake up 3-4 times a night and I have to shake my hand and flick my fingers to wake them up. Gripping the steering wheel is becoming a challenge and I have to change hands frequently while I drive. I’ve had this off and on for the last 5 years but this last year it seems to be getting worse. I’m really getting concerned. Can you help me?”
If this history sounds familiar, you may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). It’s a very common disorder affecting millions of adults each year. It’s also one of the biggest problems for businesses involved in meat packaging, textiles, and virtually any job that requires fast, repetitive movements commonly used on assembly lines.
CTS is the result of pinching of the median nerve as it travels from the neck into the arm, through muscles in the forearm and into the hand through the carpal tunnel. Pressure on the nerve at any of these locations can create the symptoms of CTS. The carpal tunnel is quite small in size and included inside the tunnel are 9 tendons, blood vessels, and the median nerve. When the muscles of the forearms and hands are overworked, they inflame and swell. Because the carpal tunnel is normally so tight, the increased swelling inside the tunnel pushes and pinches the median nerve creating the classic pain, numbness, tingling, and sometimes burning sensations often described by people suffering with CTS.
CTS is more common in woman than men by 3 or 4:1. This is partially because female bone structure is smaller and therefore their carpal tunnel is smaller too.
Women also experience fluid retention or build up during menstruation leading to symptoms like swollen fingers and swollen and painful breasts. Swelling in the already tight, confined space of the carpal tunnel will increase their susceptibility for developing CTS. Another hormone-related cause or contributing factor is the use of birth control pills (BCPs). Since there are many different types of BCPs and each woman is unique and different, finding the BCP with the “right balance” of hormones where the swelling side effect is minimized is very important and should be discussed with the doctor who prescribed the BCPs.
Age (>50 years) is also a risk factor and with our aging work force, this is becoming a big issue. Other conditions like hypothyroid, diabetes, certain types of arthritis, and hypertension / congestive heart failure where an increase in fluid retention occurs can also increase an individual’s chance of developing CTS. Obviously, occupation type plays an important role as previously mentioned. Many jobs today require the use of computers and we’re finding the position of the monitor, the keyboard and mouse, are very important in reducing one’s risk for the condition.
Chiropractic management of CTS includes wrist, forearm/elbow, shoulder, and neck adjustments, corrective exercises, the use of night splints, and an anti-inflammatory diet. Also, correcting “ergonomic factors” or job-related causes is of the utmost importance. This is why a chiropractor who treats all of these areas and has the specialized knowledge about CTS is the perfect choice to manage this condition.