Carpal Tunnel Solutions – Protect Your Nerves and Brain

May 14, 2018 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Carpal Tunnel Solutions – Protect Your Nerves and Brain
Over three million individuals per year experience carpal tunnel syndrome. Work performance, sleep, muscle control, finger and hand dexterity and feeling may be affected by this nerve entrapment and neuropathy. Several underlying health risks or disorders like hypothyroidism can lead to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Recognition, prevention, and healthy support are essential for keeping nerves, connective tissue, and the nervous system healthy.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common type of neuropathy affecting a single nerve, the median nerve. Numbness, tingling, and pain in the thumb, index, and middle finger, hand, and sometimes the forearm may occur. It may come and go or it may have progressed to relentless, tingling, burning, or numbness that makes it difficult to work and sleep. In severe cases, there may even be loss of muscle in the thumb from the median nerve compression.

Nerve entrapment or compression occurs in the wrist or within the “carpal tunnel” or higher up in the forearm within the pronator teres muscle. Sometimes symptoms may look like carpal tunnel but the nerve entrapment may occur along other parts of the median nerve from musculoskeletal concerns of the shoulder or neck.

Risk Factors

Individuals who smoke, drink, and/or have diabetes are much more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome and have moderate to severe problems. Smokers have the highest risk of all. Diabetics have a poorer outcome with carpal tunnel surgery. A July 2017 cross-sectional survey found that women who were obese regardless of other conditions had much higher likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome and it was more severe.

Other risk factors for carpal tunnel include rheumatic disorders, obesity, hypothyroidism, hypertension, wrist injury, age, repetitive work stress on the wrists, hand osteoarthritis, kidney patients on hemodialysis, Women are also more apt to experience carpal tunnel with pregnancy and menopause

Research information from December 2017 shows that obstructive sleep apnea is a risk factor for carpal tunnel. In this study, scientists determined the main driving factor in patients with sleep apnea was not sleep position or manual labor, but rather it was intermittent changes in breathing from sleep apnea that led to the development of carpal tunnel. The factor posed for both the carpal tunnel and sleep apnea is the underlying inflammation.

Repetitive strain on wrists from computer keyboard use and work place ergonomics pose as concerns for carpal tunnel. Research shows that strain to the wrist and median nerve occurred when computer keyboard was tilted to 20 degree and wrists were abducted outward versus keyboards that had no tilt and wrists were kept in neutral position.

Breast cancer patients who have undergone surgery and lymph node removal may be more at risk for carpal tunnel surgery. Breast cancer patients who are on prescription drug aromatase inhibitors like exemestane/Aromasin have a higher incidence of carpal tunnel development.

The Brain is Affected by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There is another aspect to carpal tunnel syndrome that reflects more recent research. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs not just due to a local change in the wrist, but neuroplasticity changes also occur within the brain. This is why symptoms often fail to resolve for months after the carpal tunnel has been released through surgery. Since the early-mid 2000’s, researchers have found that part of the brain, the somatosensory cortex starts to remodel in response to the carpal tunnel nerve entrapment

The somatosensory cortex is a region in the brain that receives input from sensory nerves throughout the body. Nerves throughout the body sense pain, touch, temperature, position of body parts, and other stimulus and sends this information to the brain to interpret and process.

Due to the chronic pain, tingling, and inflammation within the carpal tunnel, scientists have found that the brain’s somatosensory cortex is remodeled or has undergone neuroplastic changes in carpal tunnel symdrome. This functional change may be seen with dropping items and difficulty feeling an object with the affected wrist and hand even after the ligament and nerve entrapment has been released. The brain neurons have remodeled in response to the chronic signals from the median nerve.

Long-Term NSAIDS and Steroids Not Helpful

While carpal tunnel syndrome treatment with hand stretches, wrist splints, NSAIDS, steroids or necessary surgery may provide relief, symptoms may sometimes persist despite treatment. In fact, recent research from April 2018 shows that long-term NSAIDs and oral steroid use for carpal tunnel syndrome does not provide benefit. Scientists believe symptoms persist because of how the brain has remodeled in response to the constant nerve pain and entrapment signals.

Carpal tunnel syndrome doesn’t develop overnight. It is a condition of chronic strain and unmet repair needs that build up to the point of median nerve entrapment and brain changes. This is where self-care, management of underlying risk factors and daily wear-and-tear, and nutritional fortification for nerve, brain, and connective tissues are helpful. If you experience symptoms of nerve strain and are at high risk for carpal tunnel, now is the time to be aggressive with nutritional support. Once a nerve has been damage with loss of function, feeling, and muscle atrophy, it is a long road back to recovery. Health is priceless. We often don’t realize how well our body functions until it is damaged. Protect your nerves, brain, and connective tissue with smart choices.

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