Carpal Tunnel Sufferers, Can Turmeric Help?
If you spend long hours working at a computer every day, you’re probably familiar with the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. It starts with a numbing, tingling sensation that turns into a burning pain that radiates up your arm. With early and effective treatment, you can greatly reduce your symptoms and find relief from the pain.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel refers to a small opening located at the underside of your wrist that measures about an inch in diameter. The tendons that flex and extend your hands and wrists converge at this site, and together with the median nerve enter through the narrow tunnel to connect with your arms and shoulders.
The repetitive motion of flexing and extending the tendons in your hands and wrists all day can cause swelling. This limits space within the tunnel, causing compression of your median nerve. The resulting pain or neuropathy is the condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome:
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common median nerve neuropathy, accounting for 90% of all neuropathies.1
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
The median nerve gives sensation to your thumb and first three fingers, and runs up the forearm to the shoulder. When your median nerve is compressed, it can cause inflammation and a tingling, numbing pain that shoots up your arm to the shoulder. It’s a condition that happens gradually and if left untreated can lead to nerve damage requiring surgery.
Women are more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome, but it can affect anyone who uses their hands in a repetitive motion all day like typing and using a mouse, or working with heavy equipment. Compounding factors include:
- Hyperextension of the wrists
- Holding your arms in the same position for extended periods
- Slouching at your computer
- Poor positioning of your arms while working
- Prolonged gripping or squeezing of the hands
Carpal tunnel syndrome is more likely to sneak up on you in middle age and usually starts with a dull pain at the base of the thumb. As symptoms progress, you may experience shooting pain, muscle weakness, and limited function.
Carpal tunnel pain relief and treatment options
At the first sign of carpal tunnel pain, it’s important to seek medical attention and rest the affected area. Some people find wearing a splint helps by restricting movement of your wrist so your median nerve can heal. You can also try these treatment options to help reduce pain and swelling:
1. Ice: Icing the affected area can help reduce inflammation and numb the pain. You can use an ice pack, an ice bath, or a wrist brace with a reusable gel pack. As the wrist is a bony area, you may find relief in just a few minutes. Repeat when necessary, or about once an hour.
2. Hand and wrist stretches: To help the tendons heal, you’ll need to perform these hand stretches 5 times every day, particularly before and after activity:
- Extend your wrist out, fingers pointing up, keep your elbow soft, and support your fingers with your other hand, gently pulling them back. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat for 4 repetitions, 5 times a day.
- Perform the same exercise with your wrist flexed this time, fingers pointing down. Additional physiotherapy exercises like nerve and tendon gliding are also recommended.2
3. Acupuncture: Studies have found that verum electro-acupuncture can be beneficial in reducing the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome, and is known to promote the healing process. By altering pain signals from the brain, acupuncture at the wrist brings fresh blood to the site which can help speed recovery of your damaged nerves.3 To find a practitioner, ask your doctor for a referral.
4. Turmeric: Supplementing your diet with nutrients known for their healing properties may be an effective part of your recovery and treatment plan. Turmeric supplements contain curcumin, a powerful antioxidant with proven health benefits. A study done on alternative medicine tested curcumin on the effective treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome at a dose of twice a day for 3 months, both before and after surgery. The results showed curcumin to offer notable neuroprotective effects and significant anti-inflammatory properties:
The neuroprotective effects of curcumin have also been explained by possible protection effects against oxidative stress and the induction of antioxidative enzymes.4
With increasing research, curcumin is fast becoming known as an effective treatment in pain modulation and pain management.5
5. Avoid refined foods and stimulants: Sugars, processed foods, and white flour products are all known to aggravate symptoms of swelling, together with foods high in salt and unhealthy fats. Best to avoid or restrict these foods, especially as they can lead to weight gain and make symptoms even worse. Stimulants like nicotine and alcohol can further exacerbate swelling and pain. To help manage your symptoms, a wholesome diet consisting of anti-inflammatory foods, Omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of fiber, and fresh fruits & vegetables is highly recommended.
There are many treatment options available to you for managing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. With adequate rest and recovery time, you can address your symptoms early so you can return to your regular activities and get back to work.
- Neurosciences (Riyadh)v.20(1); Jan 2015: PMC4727604
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; OrthoInfo, Oct. 28: Therapeutic Exercise Program for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Brain, Volume 140, Issue 4, April 2017: DOI 10.1093/brain/awx015
- Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Jan 2014: DOI 10.1155/2014/891310
- 5. Korean J Pain. 2012 Jul;25(3):202-3. DOI: 10.3344/kjp.2012.25.3.202.
- Blog Contributor