Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is one of the most common misdiagnoses that gets thrown around these days. Unfortunately, many people get symptoms like tingling, numbness and weakness in their wrists and fingers thanks to spending hours in the office hunched over a computer working uncomfortably – only one of the causes of this condition. But interestingly, medical professionals seem to advise unnecessary operations as a go-to solution.
Not just unnecessary, but also ineffective – in fact, about 50% of carpal tunnel surgeries are considered unsuccessful (1). However, it’s not that the procedure itself doesn’t work – a lot of the time, the problem wasn’t actually carpal tunnel syndrome to begin with, and therefore no resolution is gained from the procedure.
Carpal tunnel syndrome definition
Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by the following pathophysiology:
• Compression of the median nerve in the wrist
• Loss of elasticity of the median nerve
• Increased cross-sectional area of the median nerve
• Decreased nerve conduction velocity
Because of these characteristics, symptoms like muscle weakness, numbness and of course, pain and discomfort, are constant and may even cause atrophy of the muscle tissue (2).
Carpal tunnel syndrome operation
Unfortunately, CTS is diagnosed too often and without consideration of differential diagnoses. The operation for carpal tunnel syndrome is no small feat. It involves the cutting of the transverse carpal ligament, which is an important component of the carpal tunnel. This cut is then left open, meaning that the carpal tunnel is now left open. It’s also important to note that the purpose of the carpal tunnel is to help protect major nerves and blood vessels that travel through the wrist.
This should give us pause to first look into alternative treatments before agreeing to
go under the knife. With that said, when CTS is correctly diagnosed, this surgery (though rather
extreme) is warranted.
Carpal tunnel pain relief and remedies
Over the last 25 years, research has focused on Trigger Points as a solution to relief from CTS. Trigger Points, which can be used as a home remedy for carpal tunnel, is an evolving and largely unexplored science, so some of this information may change over time. However, it is gaining evidence and popularity thanks to other practices like acupuncture that help relieve muscular and joint pain effectively over time.
There is a strong likelihood that at least the other 50% of diagnosed cases of carpal tunnel syndrome can be relieved by manual and physical therapy and actually have almost the same success rate as surgery (3).
Trigger Point therapy – treating carpal tunnel syndrome
When you're dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome, it's worth investigating some alternative therapies in order to relieve the pain and discomfort. With surgery being over-prescribed and under-effective, Trigger Point therapy is far less invasive and might be the answer to your pain.
Investigating Trigger Points requires minimal recovery time as well as rehabilitation. Treatment for Trigger Points requires manual, physical therapy. It's best to find a trained (however not a requirement) person who has the sensitivity and the patience to explore tissues in order to locate the rather elusive Trigger Points.
Be patient while using such an approach, because even though it can be highly effective, it does come with its own difficulties. It can be really difficult to pinpoint Trigger Points given their microscopic size, and their ability to confuse the nervous system by referring pain to different locations around the body.
The important thing to remember with manipulation is how often you massage it – not how hard you press on the spot or how much pain you can tolerate through clenched teeth. Consistent work over a period of days and weeks generally produces significant and beneficial results. Many people claim that they find relief when they begin exploring points around the elbow – even though it's far from your fingers and wrists, it’s generally going to house a few ‘sweet-spots’ that can offer relief further down your arm.
So before relying on surgery as your first go-to option, invest some time in the exploration of manual therapy and physical therapy techniques to resolve your carpal tunnel syndrome. You might just save yourself from unnecessary discomfort and even more pain!
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1. National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3418353/
2. Radiology RSNA: https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/pdf/10.1148/radiol.13122901?download=true
3. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: https://www.jospt.org/doi/abs/10.2519/jospt.2017.7090?code=jospt-site