Light at the end of the tunnel

You see them on cashiers, food servers and office staff; the tell-tale little braces on the wrist that help ease repetitive stress.  In times past, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) was an ailment of factory workers and bookkeepers, but in this digital age when we all spend so much time on computers, many more are at risk and at a much younger age.

CTS is the term used to describe a set of symptoms that occur when the median nerve in the wrist, which controls the muscles in the thumb and the nerve response of the first three fingers, is damaged or compressed.  The carpel tunnel itself is a tiny little opening in the wrist that the median nerve passes through.  Any repetitive wrist motion, especially when combined with rapid use of the fingers can cause inflammation and compression over time.

Many take anti-inflammatories to ease the pain and this might be necessary.  At the root however, what we have in a problem with the nervous system combined with circulation issues.  This is why symptoms are often worse first thing in the morning and at night when circulation slows down.  Herbs such as capsicum that are pain-relieving while also stimulating blood flow are a good choice.

Massage also helps promote circulation and is a lot more fun than taking pills!  Even a few minutes of massage daily can keep water retention in the hands and wrists down and ease discomfort.  This works especially well when combined with essential oils like wintergreen or rosemary.

B vitamins are needed in order to let the nerves repair themselves.  A good complex containing roughly 50mg of each vitamin taken two or three times a day with meals is recommended.  Remember that B-vitamins are water soluble, meaning that your body doesn’t store them well, so it’s much more effective to take small doses frequently then to load up all at once.  Taking all three capsules in the morning will give you glow-in-the-dark urine, but won’t help your nerves very much.  Incorporating lots of whole grains like barley and brown rice into your diet ensures good quality easily assimilated B vitamins.

Some have taken this idea about B vitamins farther.  John Ellis, M.D., of Mt. Pleasant, Texas, claims to be an expert in vitamin B-6.  He told a reporter 10 years ago “There are big dollars tied up in surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. For $3, I can cure CTS in better than 90 percent of patients.”  His $3 cure was a bottle of B6.  Apparently the connection occurred to him when he realized that women who are pregnant or taking oral contraceptives and people with diabetes are at stronger risk for CTS.  They also have higher B6 requirements and are often left deficient.  A bottle of vitamins will cost you slightly more now and in Canada, but still worth a shot!

If your job or your hobbies leave you at risk for developing CTS, there are some precautions you can take.  Two warm-up exercises suggested by the American Physical Therapy Association are: 1) resting one forearm on the table, grasp the fingertips of that hand and pull back gently.  Hold this position for five seconds, than repeat the exercise with the other hand.  2) Press the palms flat on the table as if doing a push-up.  Lean forward to stretch the forearm muscles and the wrists.

Even just taking a break every hour or so, moving around and loosening the wrists can make a difference.  Or take the time to lead your coworkers through a rousing round of “Shake your sillies out” or the “hockey-pokey”.  After all, laughter is the best medicine!

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