Breaking news for anyone suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome: From new video technology to acupuncture treatments, non-invasive surgery, and cold laser therapy, medical breakthroughs in the treatment and cure of carpal tunnel syndrome are on the rise. Furthermore, at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), as well as the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders (NIAMS), research is currently underway to study the factors that contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome (including brain changes and biochemical stresses) and to explore therapies and alternative treatments to treat the painful orthopedic condition.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Anyway?
So what exactly is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)? The carpal tunnel itself is a narrow passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand where the median nerve and tendons are located. When swelling or irritation of the tendons occurs (i.e. from repetitive movements or awkward positioning), the tunnel narrows, compressing the median nerve and giving rise to pain or numbness which begins in the hand and wrist and radiates to the arm.
Typically, CTS manifests in an aching hand, wrist, or forearm and can progress to weakness in the hands, piercing pain through the wrist and up the arm, and tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers. Left untreated, CTS can cause decreased grip strength and the inability to grasp small objects, make a fist, and perform manual tasks. In chronic cases, affected individuals may be unable to differentiate hot and cold via touch and the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away.
Who Can Get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
While data-entry personnel and office workers are popularly believed to be at the greatest risk for developing CTS, the syndrome is not confined to a single industry and is in fact three times more common among assembly line workers. Other people commonly affected by CTS include those who work in cleaning, sewing, finishing, and meat/poultry/fish packing.
Early treatment of CTS is essential to prevent long-term damage and a chronic condition. The following treatments are known to be effective in alleviating pain and swelling and in reducing pressure on the median nerve:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. aspirin, ibuprofen, and other pain relievers); research also indicates that vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) supplements may ease symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome
- Chiropractor manipulations
- Splints to immobilize the wrist and prevent further damage
- Ice packs to reduce swelling
- Wristaleve (an adjustable strap worn around the wrist, designed to treat CTS by lifting the roof of the carpal tunnel to relieve the compression of the nerves and tendons)
- Stretching and strengthening exercises (once symptoms have abated)
- Reconstructive therapy
- Surgical treatments, including open release surgery (performed under local anesthesia as an outpatient) and endoscopic carpal tunnel release (ECTR) surgery, allowing for faster functional recovery, reduced postoperative pain, less scar tissue, and a better cosmetic result
New in Carpal Tunnel Research
Yoga and Acupuncture: Alternative therapies such as yoga and acupuncture have been shown to benefit patients suffering from CTS. Yoga reduces pain and improves grip strength, while a 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences determined that acupuncture is effective in relieving the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Similarly, a 2006 research study published in the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain used MRI technology to measure the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of CTS and discovered a brain pathway via which acupuncture achieves its therapeutic results. The researchers concluded that acupuncture benefits carpal tunnel and chronic pain sufferers “through a coordinated limbic network including the hypothalamus and amygdale.”
Video Technology: In other breakthrough news, researchers at the University of Wisconsin are experimenting with video technology to record and analyze workers’ upper body movements in an effort to discover a cure for carpal tunnel syndrome. The research combines human perception with video technology to observe workers’ hands at work and to calculate how repetitive a given task is and whether it is considered safe or prone to injuries. The use of video technology is considered an improvement upon previous, more invasive movement recording methods which required sensors being attached to workers, causing them to move unnaturally and making the research less accurate. Ultimately, the researchers hope to design a tool that companies all over the world can use to help prevent workplace injuries and specifically to determine the likelihood of a worker getting CTS.
Karen Burke is the President and Founder of Kare Products. Karen has over 30 years of expertise creating ergonomic furniture that help avoid injury and promotes health for all types of discomfort and body sizes.