By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
There are a lot of benefits to be gained by using modern technology. But there can be downsides too. One of the most common I see in my practice is carpel tunnel syndrome(CTS). From assembly line workers to writers, carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common ailments among Americans today. It can affect anyone who spends long hours doing a repetitive motion, such as knitting or typing on a computer.
Women are three times more likely than men to contract carpal tunnel syndrome because their carpal tunnel tends to be smaller—and because of possible fluid retention during pregnancy and menopause. Also, people with square-shaped wrists tend to have a genetic predisposition for CTS.
Carpal tunnel is one of several health problems known as entrapment neuropathies, where the peripheral nerves become either compressed or damaged. With CTS, the median nerve, which is located from the forearm to the hand, becomes squeezed by the carpal tunnel. This tunnel is a narrow passageway, consisting of bones and ligaments, which surround the median nerve and tendons.
Median nerve entrapment is caused by some form of swelling—usually from the tendons, which can become irritated and inflamed. Because the median nerve controls feeling and some movement in the palm-side of the thumb and the first three fingers, carpal tunnel syndrome first manifests as a tingling and numbing sensation in that area of the hand. Over time, if CTS is left untreated, it can become very painful, and even lead to muscle atrophy.
The symptoms for carpal tunnel symptoms range from mild to severe, depending on how long the median nerve has been damaged. CTS sufferers can have trouble picking up and holding objects, and the work that is likely their livelihood, becomes dreadfully uncomfortable, if possible at all.
Surgery is one solution. Surgery involves widening the carpal tunnel, therefore taking pressure off of the median nerve. But healing carpal tunnel naturally is another. Natural treatment of carpal tunnel involves reducing inflammation, water retention, and irritation, combined with strengthening the wrist and healing the injury.
The first thing you need to do is rest the area. Any action that can negatively affect the carpal tunnel and median nerve should be stopped for at least two weeks. Wearing a splint also helps to stabilize the area.
Nutritional changes for the treatment of carpal tunnel include reducing your salt intake since sodium increases water retention. Eating fluid-balancing foods, such as chicken, fish, beans, wheat germ and celery can also help. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that trigger inflammation. Steer clear of red meat, shellfish and the “white foods” like refined flour, sugar and pasta.
A recent study found that supplementing with 300 mg. of alpha lipoic acid twice a day and 360 mg. of gamma-linolenic acid (from borage oil) controlled the symptoms of carpel tunnel and helped prevent its progression. The study, which involved 112 participants with mild to moderate carpel tunnel, found that this novel combination also improved function, especially in the subjects with a milder form of the condition.
Certain vitamins can also greatly enhance the healing process. Vitamin B6, which helps to process amino acids, is extremely important. The most active form of this vitamin is pyridoxal-5’-phosphate (P5P). It should be taken along with the other B-complex vitamins, which nourish the nervous system. It’s also important to take 2,000 mg. of vitamin C. Vitamin C strengthens the connective tissue that supports healthy muscle function.
Since pain, numbness and inflammation are the most obvious consequences of carpel tunnel, look to anti-inflammatory supplements for relief. The ones I recommend to my patients include bromelain, which is derived from the stems of fresh pineapple. You can take 1,500 mg. of bromelain for up to three months. For best results, take 500 mg. three times a day on an empty stomach. Boswellia is another effective anti-inflammatory. Take 150 mg. three times daily to soothe swelling.
To assist the carpal tunnel healing process, massage the palm, thumb, forearm and wrist every day. This will help increase the circulation of oxygen-rich blood to the injured area. Ginkgo biloba, taken in capsule form, or as an extract, also promotes healthy blood flow.
When healing carpal tunnel naturally, be patient. Give your body at least six weeks to heal and recover. If herbs, diet and supplements aren’t enough, try exercises and stretching. Yoga has proven to successfully eliminate the symptoms for carpal tunnel syndrome. Acupuncture can help as well. You may need to experiment a bit before you find a solution that works for you. But it’s well worth the effort.
Aufiero E. Pyridoxine hydrochloride treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome: a review. Nutrition Review. 2004;62:96-104.
Di Geronimo G. Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome with alpha-lipoic acid. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. 2009;13:133-9.
Keniston RC. Vitamin B6, vitamin C, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 1997;39:949–59.