What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that is characterized by pressure to one of the major nerves in the hand, called the median nerve. The median nerve enters the hand through the carpal tunnel, also called the carpal canal, which is a narrow passageway that goes from the wrist to the hand.
As a result of this pinched nerve, carpal tunnel syndrome can result in numbness, tingling, and weakness in the wrist and hand.
Who is affected?
Anyone can be diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. People generally show symptoms of the condition between ages 40 and 70, and your chances of getting carpal tunnel syndrome increase as you get older.   Women are twice as likely to be affected by the condition as men. 
There isn’t a single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, but there are a number of factors that might make you more at risk of developing the condition. Some of these factors include wrist fractures, obesity, and other conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. 
What happens in your body?
- Frequent numbness or tingling in the fingers or hand, especially in the thumb, index, and middle fingers
- This symptom often first appears at night, and may wake you up from sleep. As the condition progresses, this sensation may occur during the day, while you’re doing manual (hand-related) tasks such as driving or talking on the phone.
- Hand weakness that can lead to dropping objects or difficulty performing other manual tasks
Some people with carpal tunnel syndrome may feel more electric shock-like sensations in their hands, while others may feel as if their fingers feel swollen. All of these symptoms are a result of the pinched median nerve.
How do I know if I have carpal tunnel syndrome?
It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible to make sure that the condition does not worsen. The best way to do this is by visiting your doctor and, if possible, getting a referral to a specialized care provider. One doctor that specifically treats carpal tunnel syndrome is a neurologist.
Some ways that your doctor can assess whether you have the condition is through inquiring about your symptoms, and conducting a physical examination or medical tests (such an X-ray, electromyography, or nerve conduction study).
How is it treated?
There is no known cure for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but integrative interventions have shown to reduce pain and discomfort and improve quality of life by slowing the condition’s progression and easing the severity of symptoms.  
Integrative interventions offer a holistic approach to treatment. Instead of just conventional medicine, integrative treatments combine conventional medicine with nutritional tools, mind-body medicine, and manual medicine for a holistic approach to treating carpal tunnel syndrome.
For those new to integrative medicine, learn more here
Many people with carpal tunnel syndrome find that certain medications work for them and others do not. So, in order to find an effective conventional treatment, people with carpal tunnel syndrome often work with their doctors to determine which medication works best with their body and needs.
With the right medication, it is possible to manage symptoms and prevent the rapid worsening of the condition. Before starting to take any medication, be sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects. And if you notice any of the side effects once you start your treatment, let your doctor know as soon as possible.
Examples of conventional treatments:
Glucocorticoids (also known as corticosteroids) are steroid drugs that can be taken by mouth or injection, and are meant to start working immediately to reduce pain and inflammation caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. Corticosteroid injections are considered to be more effective than the oral drug in treating the condition.  
Doctors recommend surgery if other treatments are not effective. Endoscopy surgery involves your doctor using a telescope-like device with a tiny camera attached to it to view the carpal tunnel and cut the ligament that is pressing on the median nerve. Open surgery has the same goal of relieving pressure on the median nerve, but does not use a tiny camera, also called an endoscope.  
Research shows that gentle, low-intensity mind-body treatments can help carpal tunnel patients with mobility, mood, decreased pain, and more. There are a wide variety of mind-body treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome, ranging from deep breathing to aqua-therapy.
When living with chronic pain, engaging in regular movement and exercise may feel difficult and unnecessary. But doing so can actually improve your symptoms.
Before starting a physical exercise regimen, consult with your doctor about what might be the best activities for you and your body.
Examples of mind-body medicine:
Tai chi is a Chinese practice of slow, low-intensity movements that researchers have found can improve mobility, functionality, and psychological health in patients with chronic conditions.
Yoga comes in many different styles, often engaging both the body and the mind through controlled breathing and stretching. A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania suggests a yoga-based regimen was more effective than wrist splinting or no treatment in relieving some symptoms and signs of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Relaxation therapies like deep breathing techniques, meditation, and biofeedback can help patients ease anxiety and better manage chronic pain. UCLA researchers suggest that mind-body treatments like these can disrupt inflammatory pathways in the body and are anti-inflammatory.
Manual treatments are administered by certified therapists, using physical pressure and stimulation on the body to reduce carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Treatments can vary in intensity and incorporate other elements such as heat and aromatherapy to enhance relief.
Examples of manual medicine:
Licensed massage therapists use different techniques, like shiatsu, hot stone, and Swedish massage, to provide temporary pain relief. Studies suggest that massage therapy is particularly helpful for muscle pain, and that it can also help reduce anxiety.
Nutrition plays a crucial role in your overall health, and is a tool you can use to combat joint damage, reduce inflammation, and manage other carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
Just like with conventional, mind-body, and manual medicines, there is not one ideal treatment for every carpal tunnel syndrome patient. When selecting nutritional tools to treat your condition, it is best to consult with your doctor or work with a dietitian, naturopath, or nutritionist to find out the best diet for you.
Examples of nutritional tools:
While some foods can help reduce symptoms, other foods may trigger them. An elimination diet, which is an eating plan that eliminates certain foods or food groups believed to be causing negative bodily reactions, can help you figure out which foods are triggering those symptoms and bring you closer to your ideal diet.
Research suggests that eating fish may reduce joint inflammation for those with rheumatoid arthritis and may help with symptoms of carpal tunnel.
Recommendation: Eat three to four ounces of fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, or other cold-water fish) twice a week.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, which support your immune system and may fight inflammation.
Recommendation: Eat one and a half to two cups of fruit (like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and strawberries) and two to three cups of vegetables (like spinach, kale, and broccoli) per meal.
Nuts are rich in healthy fat, protein, and fiber, and help fight inflammation.
Recommendation: Eat one and a half ounces–about a handful–of nuts (like walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and almonds) per day.
Beans (like red, pinto, navy, and black beans) are rich in fiber and protein, and are full of both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Recommendation: Eat at least one cup of beans per week.
This heart-healthy ingredient contains healthy fat, antioxidants, and oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound.
Recommendation: Consume two to three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day by using it in your cooking or salad dressings.
These simple, flavor-rich vegetables are packed with antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and help control cholesterol levels.
Fiber is found in foods like beans, whole grain breads, and fresh vegetables. It makes you feel fuller for longer and boosts digestive health. It also may help reduce inflammation.
Recommendation: Incorporate a good mix of insoluble fiber (from vegetables, wheat, and seeds) and soluble fiber (from fruits and oats) in your diet or try fiber supplements.
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The information on this page is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.