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No Easy Fix

Carpal Tunnel Sydrome is painful and difficult to treat.

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I no longer need an alarm clock. These days I can count on my body to wake me up in plenty of time to get an early start. But it's not good news. Instead of a gentle beep, beep, I wake to a right hand and arm screaming in pain and yet numb. We're not talking an "oh my goodness, it went to sleep," tingly hand. We're talking a "red hot, ice cold, stiff and feeling like a catcher's mitt" hand. It always goes away once I get up and moving, but the problem is I have no choice in the matter of when I get moving. The silly thing has no timer to set and lately it's been "going off" at 2:58 a.m., 3:26 a.m. and 4:44 a.m. Good grief. Time to research carpal tunnel again.

On to the Internet I go, hoping for a new discovery. WebMD (www.webmd.com) says, "Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a specific group of symptoms that can include tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain in the fingers, thumb, hand, and occasionally in the arm. These symptoms occur when there is pressure on the median nerve within the wrist." Nothing new there. I know people who swear by surgery, but I'm not ready -- even as I find evidence of new procedures that minimize cutting and down time. WebMD agrees that "the knife" is a last resort and only recommends it after a year of other treatments like rest, ice packs, wearing splints and doing exercises.

I poke around more and find an in-depth article on the Mayo Clinic Web site (www.mayoclinic.com). New information. Carpal tunnel is not a new, technology-age malady. It was documented as early as the beginning of the 20th century, so we can't blame it just on keyboards anymore.

The article points out that CTS can "result from overuse or strain in certain job tasks that require a combination of repetitive, forceful and awkward or stressed motions of your hands and wrists." These motions often also involve arms, shoulders and backs. Maybe that explains why I have more problems after gardening, bringing in groceries or painting a wall than after typing an article or two.

I do not believe having numb hands is always only about wrists. The charts on my chiropractor's wall show nerves running from the hand, up through the arms and into the spine at the base of the neck. That explains why I get relief after a deep-tissue massage to release muscle tension in my upper back, followed by a chiropractic adjustment. My massage therapist extraordinaire coaxes my muscles into releasing their death grip on my spine so the chiropractor can put it back where it belongs. That removes pressure and allows the squashed nerve to heal.

According to my research, it is unclear whether nerve compression higher up in the spinal column contributes to CTS or just mimics it. Either way, it isn't necessarily as simple as a snip. WebMD says the culprit is an inflamed median nerve in the wrist. There could also be inflammation of the nerves higher up in the spinal column. I could go the pill-taking route and pop ibuprofen and risk screwing up my stomach. Or I could try something herbal, like chamomile tea and eating lots of pineapple. Or I could apply essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties like hypericum, Roman chamomile or tea tree oil.

But if I am looking to reduce inflammation, I should look at what I am doing to increase it. Sugar, for example, promotes inflammation. According to Oprah Winfrey's Web site (www.oprah.com), "If it contains flour, and/or sugar or other sweetener, it will be pro-inflammatory." Yikes. No wonder I'm in pain.

So there you have it. Once again, it all comes down to taking care of myself. No magic pill. No easy fix. Dang it. My prescription: get a massage, see the chiropractor, watch the sugar and flour, try essential oils, calm myself down with chamomile tea and meditation and do some stretching and exercises -- probably between two and three in the morning.

This is not medical advice, just things to consider. I am not a doctor, but there are some very good ones out there. With or without them, we have to do our own research, ask lots of questions and make our own decisions. Ultimately, our health is up to us.

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