Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) has a bad reputation for coming and going, sometimes for years, depending on many factors such as 1) age; 2) profession (fast, repetitive, with forceful gripping); 3) general health (diabetes, hypothyroid, and inflammatory arthritis (like rheumatoid), pregnancy, on birth control pills, or taking hormone replacement therapy); 4) hobbies (worse if it’s knitting, crocheting, prolonged use of a computer, or using hand tools a lot); and 5) obesity.
Here is a list of things that YOU can do to self-help when CTS rears its ugly head:
1. Rest/Activity: CTS symptoms often improve when taking “mini-breaks”, as it STOPS the vicious cycle from getting out of control. For example, if you are a musician, rest every 15 minutes or even one to two minutes when practicing. REST during any activity that requires heavy use of the hands, such as forceful gripping and/or fast repetitive movements, can REALLY help!
2. Lose weight: Obesity increases the likelihood of CTS, especially if you’re over age 50 and female. It is recommended that you check your BMI and keep it under 30!
3. Night Splints: The use of a night splint can REALLY help, as we cannot control our hand/wrist position at night when we sleep. ANY position outside of a neutral position increases the pressure inside the wrist and can wake us up with numbness, burning sensations, and pain. The discomfort can also prevent us from returning to sleep. When CTS symptoms are present when driving, the use of a splint can be highly relieving!
4. Exercise: In general, exercise is good for everyone but it can help in specific conditions like CTS. Yoga has specifically been cited as a potential CTS remedy, pending the yoga pose does not aggravate a painful arthritic wrist. So use your good judgment—if an exercise produces a sharp pain, it’s probably NOT good for you!
5. CTS Specific Exercises: There are very specific stretches that can be done that helps CTS. Stand at arms-length from a wall, keep the elbow straight and place your palm on the wall with your fingers pointing downward. Slowly bend the wrist to 90° (so that you feel a strong stretch in the forearm), then reach across with the opposite hand and pull your thumb back off the wall. Hold this five to ten seconds and repeat on the opposite side if needed. This can be repeated MANY times a day.
6. Workstation Ergonomic Modifications: It’s often easier to change a workstation than it is to change the worker, so make sure the computer monitor is directly in front of you, keep the mouse in a comfortable location such as level with the keyboard on a pullout under-the-desk shelf, change the tool design to prevent wrist bending and/or firm gripping, rotate between several job tasks more often, allow for sit/stand options, and more. Carefully assess your work area and use the goal of preventing extreme wrist positions!
7. Manage health co-morbidities: Keep your diabetes, thyroid deficiency, hormone levels, and inflammatory conditions under control. This may require the proper medication(s) and/or nutritional support. Your chiropractor can help you with nutritional counseling!
8. Manipulation: When you cannot adequately control your CTS symptoms or if you are getting worse despite your good efforts, seek care from a doctor of chiropractic. Manipulation, mobilization, modalities, and additional exercise training can prevent surgery in many cases! But don’t wait too long, as it’s more difficult to treat if CTS has persisted a long time.