Carpal tunnel syndrome or, CTS, is a common condition that drives many patients to chiropractic clinics asking, “…what can chiropractic do for CTS?” As an overview, the following is a list of what you might expect when you visit a Doctor of Chiropractic for a condition like CTS:
1. A thorough history is VITALLY important as your doctor can ask about job related stressors, hobby related causes (such as carpentry or playing musical instruments), telephone work, or factory work – especially if it’s fast and repetitive. Your doctor will also need to learn about your “co-morbidities” or, other conditions that can directly or indirectly cause CTS such as diabetes, thyroid disease, certain types of arthritis, certain medication side effects, and others.
2. A Physical Exam to determine the area(s) of nerve compression degree of severity. This may include ordering special tests such as EMG/NCV, if necessary.
3. Treatment can include manipulation, soft tissue release, PT modalities (eg., electric stim., ultrasound).
4. Home Therapies are the main topic for this Health Update. What can YOU do for CTS?
Here are some of the things that you, the CTS sufferer can self-manage:
A Carpal tunnel splint is primarily worn at night, keeping your wrist in a neutral or straight position. This position places the least amount of stretch on the nerves and muscle tendons that travel through the carpal tunnel at the wrist.
Exercises (Dose: 5-10 second holds, 5-10 repetitions, multiple times / day) such as:
A. The “Bear claw” (keep the big knuckles of the hand straight but bend the 2 smaller joints of the fingers and thumb and alternate with opening wide the hand)
B. Tight Fist / open hand (fully open – spread and extend the fingers and then make a fist, with the hand).
C. The upside down palm on wall wrist and forearm stretch (stand facing a wall; with the elbow straight, place the palm of your hand on the wall, fingers pointing down towards the floor. Try to bend the wrist to 90 degrees keeping the palm flat on the wall. Feel the stretch in the forearm – hold for 5-10 seconds. Reach across with the other hand and gently pull back on the thumb for an added stretch!
D. Wrist range of motion (dorsiflexion/palmar flexion) – Place forearm on a table with wrist off the edge, palm down. Bend hand downward as far as possible, then upward. Repeat 5 or 10 times.
E. Wrist range of motion (pronation/supination) – Place forearm and whole hand on table– elbow bent 90°, palm flat on tabletop. Rotate the wrist and forearm so the back of hand is now flat on tabletop. Repeat 5 or 10 times.
F. Neck Stretch. Sit or stand with head facing forward. Side bend as far to the right as possible (approximate the right ear to right shoulder) and hold for 5 seconds. Reach over with the right hand to the left side of the head and gently pull further to the right to increase the stretch. Reverse instructions for the other side. Repeat 3 to 5 times. Consider other neck exercises if needed.
G. Shoulder shrug and rotation. Stand with arms at the sides. Shrug the shoulders up toward the ears, then squeeze the shoulder blades back, then downwards and then roll them forward. Do the whole rotation slowly and reverse the direction. Repeat 3 to 5 times. If you cannot comfortably do the whole rotation, just shrug the shoulders up and down.
H. Pectoral stretch. Stand in a doorway (or a corner of a room). Rest your forearms, including your elbows, on the doorframe, keeping your shoulders at a 90-degree angle. Lean forward until a stretch is felt in the chest muscles. Do not arch your back. Hold 20 seconds; repeat 5 times.
Job modifications are also VERY important but unfortunately, a topic for another time! In short, rotate job tasks (if possible), take mini-breaks, and use tools with handles that fit easily into the hands. Have a job station analysis completed if the above are not enough.
Dr. David Ingram