Natural Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

An unfortunate side effect of the computer age is the growing prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition, which affects the proper functioning of the fingers and hands, is caused by the repetitive use of fingers and hands in improper positions. The culprit, of course, is the computer keyboard. The condition arises when a major nerve, the median nerve, is compressed at the point where it passes through the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway of bones on the underside of the wrist. The result is pain, tingling, and numbness in the fingers or hands. The condition particularly affects the thumb, index, and ring fingers. Complete loss of sensation in the fingers can also occur.

If you are beginning to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, the first thing you can do is purchase an ergonomic keyboard. Such keyboards are usually split, with keys separated into two or three groups and splaying slightly outward; they are often adjustable. With a normal keyboard, the hands must be aligned at a 90 degree angle with the desktop, forcing them to angle away from the forearms. With an ergonomic keyboard, however, the hands and forearms can stay aligned, putting less stress on your wrists. Many of these keyboards are also angled upward in the center, such that the index finger is higher than the pinkie. You can try different configurations to see which feels most correct. Any ergonomic keyboard will take some getting used to, and your typing speed may never be the same, but you may save yourself a great deal of pain.

Acupuncture is one common treatment for carpal tunnel, though it doesn’t work for everyone. Traditional acupuncture theory holds that pain can be caused by blockages along energy pathways in the body, called “meridians”; by inserting thin needles into specific points, these areas are unblocked, and the flow of energy is improved. Contemporary theory holds that the needles release natural pain-relieving chemicals in certain areas, both improving circulation of body fluids and balancing the nervous system. For carpal tunnel treatment, needles are usually inserted in the hands, wrists, and arms; needles may also be inserted in the upper back and neck, along nerves that run from the spine down the arms to the hands.

Acupuncture is only effective when applied in a series of treatments; a single treatment will have little effect. If you are squeamish about the needles, some acupuncturists are using laser therapy instead, following the same acupuncture principles. Another noninvasive technique is acupressure; the application of directed pressure to points on the wrists, forearms, and hands is thought to stimulate blood flow to the wrists and ease swelling and numbness. If you wish to seek a practitioner of any of these techniques, be sure that your practitioner is experienced specifically with carpal tunnel, and get references from people who have already been treated.

Much research has associated vitamin B6 deficiency with carpal tunnel syndrome; some studies suggest that high levels of vitamin C in conjunction with deficient levels of vitamin B6 lead to greater susceptibility to carpal tunnel. Common food sources of vitamin B6 include avocados, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, brown rice, chick peas, salmon, bok choy, barley, bananas, mangoes, and some poultry. You can also take Vitamin B6 supplements, at 50 milligrams two or three times daily. But don’t overdo it; daily intake of this vitamin from all sources should not exceed 200 milligrams. It can take several weeks for the vitamin to take effect.

Other supplements that may help include enzyme supplements such as bromelain, which helps reduce tissue swelling. Bromelain is naturally present in pineapple. In some studies, Vitamin B12 has been shown to improve carpal tunnel symptoms. And if you’ve had surgery for carpal tunnel, arnica, an herbaceous species in the sunflower family, can help with recovery. There are various homeopathic arnica ointments on the market that can reduce post-surgery pain within two weeks.

Finally, various kinds of bodywork can help reduce carpal tunnel symptoms, and retrain you to use your hands and arms in more natural ways. Yoga can help improve grip strength and increase flexibility. Chiropractic care for carpal tunnel involves manipulating the tender tissues and joints of the arms and spine. Feldenkrais and the Alexander Technique are both systems of movement reeducation, in which people are taught individually or in small groups how to move their bodies correctly in ways that reduce joint stress and muscle strain. Hellerwork is another bodywork system with three principal components: deep tissue work around the arms and wrists, education about correct posture in conjunction with an ergonomic assessment of the workstation, and a dialog addressing how one’s mental state might lock muscles into inappropriate holding patterns.

Many people who suffer from acute carpal tunnel syndrome resort to surgery. Although success rates are high, there is always risk with surgery, recovery times may be slow, and the condition might not be fully corrected. Before assenting to surgery, it would not hurt to try natural techniques to alleviate your condition first.