Carpal tunnel syndrome

Q: Can chiropractic treatments help with carpal tunnel syndrome?

A: Chiropractic care has helped some people with carpal tunnel syndrome. To explain how chiropractic care may help, it is first necessary to understand what carpal tunnel syndrome is and how it develops.

The “carpal tunnel” is a structure in the wrist. Tendons and small wrist bones called carpals form what looks like a tunnel. A nerve, called the median nerve, passes through this tunnel into the hand. The origin of the median nerve is in the neck. From the neck, the nerve travels through the shoulder region and down the arm into the wrist and hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tunnel becomes too narrow and compresses the median nerve.

In many cases, swollen tissue around the wrist tendons or misaligned wrist bones cause the carpal tunnel to collapse down upon the nerve causing symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome causes wrist pain, a weak grip, numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, and middle fingers, and portions of the ring finger and palm. Symptoms are often worse at night.

A chiropractor can help alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome by adjusting the misaligned bones in the wrist, taking pressure off the median nerve. However, sometimes the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can be traced to problem areas in the neck rather than the wrist. That is, misaligned vertebrae may irritate nerve roots in the neck where the median nerve originates, producing symptoms in the wrist and hand. For this reason, a chiropractor will also examine the spine paying particular attention to the lower neck vertebrae. Chiropractic adjustments in the neck might be necessary to relieve symptoms.

Carpal tunnel syndrome may be caused by repetitive movements of the wrist that lead to swelling and irritation. Such repetitive movements may include typing, sewing, driving, playing racquetball or working with power tools that vibrate. Chiropractic care should also include advice on ways to avoid the repetitive motion or posture so that carpal tunnel syndrome can be prevented in the future.

The fluid retention associated with menopause, PMS and pregnancy may also give rise to carpal tunnel syndrome by causing swelling and median nerve irritation in the carpal tunnel. Diabetes and obesity are other contributing factors. It is less likely under these circumstances that chiropractic care will resolve symptoms.

Because carpal tunnel syndrome has several causes, it may be necessary for a chiropractor to work along with other specialists to achieve the best results.