Most people fear operations and would rather seek a non-surgical solution to a condition. In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, there are a wide range of treatment options – perhaps because as yet there is not a consensus on what actually causes the condition.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by repetitive movement of the hand, wrist and fingers – usually as a result of activities such as typing, knitting or employment such as assembly line production. Construction workers and those using drilling equipment which causes hand-to-arm vibration can also develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
However the condition may also be inherited – or is associated with a range of medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, pregnancy and hypothyroidism.
Being born with a small carpal tunnel can also predispose an individual to carpal tunnel syndrome.
The carpal tunnel is a channel of bone and ligaments, which encases the median nerve and tendons from the arm serving the hand and fingers. It is thought carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the median nerve is compressed after the tendons surrounding it become inflamed.
Symptoms include numbness, tingling and pain – including shooting pains up the arm.
Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The most obvious non-surgical intervention is to use a wrist support or brace when experiencing symptoms or when carrying out the task which causes the symptoms.
Employees who develop symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome should ask their line manager for support in changing the way they work or extra equipment such as wrist supports or wrist rests at a computer.
The pain from carpal tunnel syndrome can be debilitating and doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroid injections to help reduce inflammation in the tendons pressing on the median nerve – carpal tunnel syndrome is sometimes called median neuritis. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen can also help reduce inflammation and ease painful symptoms of CTS.
Some health practitioners also believe that increasing intake of B vitamins – especially B6 – and omega-3 fatty acids can help ease the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties – but a recent US study has linked the fatty acids to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.
Using wrist braces as additional support is the easiest way to treat carpal tunnel syndrome – but some individuals find the aesthetics of wearing a wrist brace unacceptable or cannot adjust to wearing one. However, by using a hand or wrist splint and keeping the wrist still and resting it for a period, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can ease considerably, although a long-term solution to the cause of the condition – ie work practices – will need to be addressed to prevent further problems.
Once symptoms have developed it is likely that unless action is taken, the pain and other symptoms will get progressively worse and permanent nerve damage may occur.
Many patients do not realise they have carpal tunnel syndrome as the symptoms can be similar to conditions like tennis elbow, a frozen shoulder or a sports injury – and often doctors will examine the patient’s neck and shoulders to make sure any pain and tingling in the arms, hands and fingers is not the result of another condition or injury.
Physiotherapy or occupational therapy are other options to help reduce the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome – as well as ultrasound or a therapy called iontophoresis, which delivers steroid drugs to the site of the pain via a small electric shock. Low level laser treatment is also an alternative fore treating carpal tunnel syndrome.
Exercising the wrist hand and fingers with gentle stretching and flexing may also help – and alternative therapies used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome include yoga and acupuncture.
Whichever treatment a patient decides to try, getting a GP diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome early can mean a better outcome for the patient – and less risk of the condition developing to the point where surgery is the only option.
Leo Wyatt is a freelance writer & journalist who graduated from Birmingham University. Leo has worked for several newspapers in the midlands but now spends most of his time writing articles for companies, websites and businesses on a freelance basis. Leo also has particular interests in cars, bikes, health, safety, sports, law and politics. Leo has written this article for Hospital Complaints Claims who specialise in Negligence Complaints about the NHS.