Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome with Chiropractic Care

When people hear the term carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) they often think of hand pain, tingling and numbness, grip weakness, excessive typing, life-long injury, and surgery. Perhaps, CTS has gotten such a bad rap because it is one of the most expensive work related injuries over a lifetime, costing an individual nearly $30,000 in medical bills. Not only is the cost of treating CTS burdensome, its effect on an individual’s ability to perform day to day activities, and job productivity, can weigh heavily on one’s spirit.

While it is true that carpal tunnel syndrome can ultimately result in surgical intervention, it is important to exhaust all conservative treatments first. The first step in treating CTS is to confirm that it is in fact the appropriate diagnosis, and not some other injury or illness with similar symptoms. While mechanical CTS often results from trauma to the wrist, or repetitive stress activities, such as typing with poor ergonomics, working on an assembly line, cleaning, working with hand tools, and sewing/knitting, there are other conditions that mimic CTS, as well. These conditions include hypothyroidism, diabetes, inflammatory arthritis, over-activity of the pituitary gland, and swelling with pregnancy. If these conditions are suspected, simple laboratory and blood tests may be ordered.

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            While other advanced tests, such as a nerve-conduction velocity study, can be performed, your doctor of chiropractic can often diagnose CTS based on a thorough history and standard physical examination. While CTS can occur in almost anyone, it is three times more prevalent in women. Symptoms usually occur in the dominant hand first, and include burning, tingling, and numbness into the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Symptoms often originate at night, as most individuals tend to sleep with their wrist in a flexed position. This position compresses the median nerve, which originates from the lower neck, traverses down the arm, and enters through the carpal tunnel into the hand. As CTS progresses, grip strength may become reduced, the muscles at the base of thumb shrink, and pain may begin to radiate upward along the path of the nerve. It is because of this that your doctor of chiropractic will not only examine your hands/wrists, but your arms, shoulder, and neck as well.

            In the event that you are diagnosed with CTS, it is important to initiate treatment sooner rather than later. Your doctor of chiropractic will likely adjust and/or mobilize the joints of the wrist and hand, as well as the elbow, shoulder, or neck if found to be involved during examination. Typically, stretches and exercises will also be given to aid in removal of inflammation from the area. To assist in maintaining an open carpal tunnel at night, your doctor of chiropractic may also suggest wearing a cock-up splint. This splint will hold the wrist in 15 degrees of extension, the position in which the tunnel is most unobstructed.

Nutritionally, both vitamin B6 and magnesium have been shown to improve nerve function, and reduce symptoms associated with CTS. When dealing with any type of injury, it is also essential to apply ice to the involved area and increase water intake. Water will not only facilitate the removal of inflammation, but helps to maintain proper muscle tone.

Those looking to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome should consider performing on-the-job stretches and exercises, taking frequent breaks from repetitious activities, altering between varying tasks, and utilizing proper ergonomics (e.g. not resting your arm on the edge of the desk while using the mouse).

For more information on carpal tunnel syndrome, or to schedule your appointment today, call Full Function Chiropractic at (570) 748-2500. Remember, it is always important to consult with a health care professional before pursuing dietary/lifestyle modifications.

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Avoiding Snow Shovel Blues

With the winter months upon us, and Jack Frost here to stay, it is inevitable that snow removal is in our future. Everyday common tasks, recreational activities, and basic chores can pose a risk for even the most fit individual if he, or she, has not warmed up properly. Simply going out to shovel after being inactive in bed, on the couch, or using the computer, makes the body susceptible to muscle spasms, strains, sprains, and disc irritation (especially in the lower back).

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Just before it snows (or rains) you, or someone you know, may have experienced aches and pains in old injuries of the back, knees, shoulders, hands, etc. This sensation of pain is partially due to the fact that as the weather changes so too does the barometric pressure. Just like water, pressure often travels from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. As the pressure around us drops, the pressure in the fluid surrounding our joints attempts to push outward, creating the sensation of pain. This unique pain can be further aggravated (intensified) by simply going out into the cold weather without proper clothing. As a person becomes cold, the blood vessels in their arms and legs constrict to conserve heat for the vital organs (e.g. heart). This decrease in blood results in a decrease in oxygen to the muscles. Without proper amounts of oxygen the muscles become tight and spastic, increasing the likelihood of injury (think “pulled muscle”).

Along with dressing properly, it is essential that anyone working outside perform a thorough warm-up, including light aerobic activities and functional stretches. Light aerobic exercises can include walking, jogging, performing jumping-jacks, stationary biking, and using an elliptical. A functional exercise, also known as a dynamic exercise, is any movement that utilizes multiple muscles, and takes the muscles/underlying joints through their proper ranges of motion. Examples of dynamic exercises include air squats (without weights), lunges, and bringing your elbow towards the opposite knee while marching. Along with properly warming-up, there are various tips to keep in mind to help reduce the chance of injury with shoveling snow. These tips include:

  1. Be prepared – knowing it is going to snow will afford you ample time to wake-up, and shovel snow prior to work/school
  2. Wear multiple layers of clothing to keep your muscles warm and flexible
  3. When shoveling, it is very important to simply push the snow forward, rather than attempt to throw it.
  4. Avoid sudden twisting and turning movements
  5. As is the case when lifting anything, it is always best to lift with your legs rather than your back. Due to the length of the shovel, and the effects of physics, the perceived weight of the snow is much heavier than the actual weight of the snow being lifted
  6. Take frequent rest breaks to decrease the strain on your joints and muscles
  7. Always perform a series of active cool-down stretches following shoveling, or any other winter recreational activity

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