While doctors of chiropractic have a well-deserved reputation for helping patients overcome back problems, they are actually experts in diagnosing and treating a wide range of health conditions that affect the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Many of these conditions involve the extremities—arms, legs, hands and feet—rather than the back, neck or hips. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is one example.
What causes CTS?
CTS affects about one in a thousand people each year, mostly women. It is essentially a mechanical problem caused by the median nerve being compressed as it runs through the carpal tunnel, a passageway made up of tendons, ligaments and bones that runs from the wrist to the hand.
In many cases, the precise cause of carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t clear. An injury to the wrist (sprains, strains or broken bones, for instance) may sometimes trigger CTS. So might strong vibrations from power tools or heavy machinery. Repetitive movements that place stress on this area of the body can also play a role. The tendons that control finger movement all run through the carpal tunnel, so when they become inflamed and swollen the amount of space is reduced, putting increased pressure on the median nerve.
Who’s most at risk?
Women. As mentioned earlier, women are at greater risk of CTS than men. There are a number of theories as to why women tend to suffer from CTS more frequently than men. One is that they have smaller wrist bones, and thus a smaller space through which tendons can pass. Another is that hormonal shifts may play a role, particularly during pregnancy and around menopause.
People with a genetic predisposition. Some people may have a genetic predisposition for CTS. Approximately one out of four people has a close family member who has also has the disorder.
Workers who perform repetitive, forceful movements that place localized stress on the wrist. Those who have jobs that involve repetitive movements of the arm are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Assembly line workers, carpenters and violinists would all be in relatively high-risk occupations. But what about heavy computer users? Interestingly, although long-term computer use was previously thought to contribute to CTS, there is now conflicting information about the relationship between keyboarding and CTS. Some studies, such as one from 2007 published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, have found that those who use a keyboard intensively at work actually have a significantly lower risk of developing CTS. It’s worth mentioning that some leisure activities can also contribute to the risk of CTS. Knitting, golfing and anything else that requires you to grip items in your hands for long periods of time could raise your risk.
Why chiropractic care?
CTS treatment has been evolving rapidly across the last few years, so it’s important to visit a healthcare provider who keeps current on the latest research and works with carpal tunnel patients on a regular basis. Among the most commonly recommended treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome are using a wrist splint, resting the wrist and taking pain relievers. Surgery is usually viewed as a last resort that should be considered only after more conservative treatment options have been exhausted.
Recent research has focused on the role of manual therapies—particularly specialized manipulation and mobilization techniques—as well as exercise in relieving pain and restoring range of motion. Chiropractic treatment for CTS (specifically soft tissue mobilization) has been shown to be both safe and effective compared to conventional non-surgical medical treatment, helping to improve nerve conduction latencies, wrist strength and mobility.
Chiropractors (and physical therapists) may also prescribe at-home strengthening and stretching exercises to help relieve pain and improve function in the affected hand and wrist. These approaches offer natural alternatives to sufferers who can’t tolerate common over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or painkillers, or who simply wish to avoid medication altogether.
When it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome, early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to success. The sooner this condition is addressed, the more non-invasive therapeutic choices exist for the patient. So if you suspect that you or someone you care about is suffering from CTS, please call or visit our office today. We’re here to help!