Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common neurological disorder that is estimated to affect anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of the adult population. It is most often thought to be caused by repetitive motions—most often daily use of a keyboard and mouse—but anything that narrows the carpal tunnel, the passage on the side of the hand through which ligaments and the median nerve passes through can help cause carpal tunnel syndrome. This includes a wide range of conditions that cause inflammation or fluid retention like arthritis, alcoholism, diabetes, or pregnancy.

Changes in diet and anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce inflammation and fluid retention that can help ease the symptoms. At the same time wrist exercises and mechanical intervention like braces and splints can keep the wrist straight and alleviate the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome.

The below excerpt from Secret Food Cures by Joan and Lydia Wilen contains practical advice to reduce the pain and other symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This condition results from swollen tendons that compress the median nerve within the carpal tunnel canal in the wrist. It’s usually accompanied by odd sensations, numbness, swelling, soreness, stiffness, weakness, tingling, discomfort, and pain…a lot of pain. It tends to be caused by continual, rapid use of your fingers, wrists and/or arms.

Many people feel the requirements of their job contribute to the onset of CTS. But people who spend each workday at a computer aren’t the only ones doing repetitious work—musicians, supermarket checkers, factory workers, hair stylists, bus drivers, seamstresses, tailors, and countless others are plagued by this repetitive motion injury.

Vitamin B6 may help to ease symptoms of CTS. But too much B6 can be toxic and harmful to the nervous system, so work with your health professional to determine a safe dosage of B6 for you.

If your problem is computer-related, visit your local computer store and see what it has in the way of ergonomic products that will support your wrists when you use the computer.

Sleeping with CTS

The pain may be more severe while sleeping because of the way you fold your wrist. You may find it more comfortable to wear a splint or wrist brace to bed. Now that the problem is so common, you can find a selection of splints and wrist braces at most drugstores. You may want to wear a splint or brace during the day, too.

Carpal Tunnel Checklist

You may be predisposed to CTS if you are hypothyroid, have diabetes, are pregnant or if you’re taking birth control pills. The following things are situations you can begin to change immediately…

 Do you smoke? Smoking worsens the condition because nicotine constricts the blood vessels and carbon monoxide replaces oxygen, reducing the blood flow to your tissues.

 Are you overweight? Being overweight can reduce the blood flow to your tissues. Also, the more weight, the more the muscles must support to move your hand and arm.

◆ Do you exercise? Aerobic exercise—30 minutes, four times a week—can increase the flow of oxygenated blood to your hands and help remove waste products caused by inflammation.

Exercise for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Prevention

A team of doctors from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in Rosemont, Illinois, has developed special exercises that can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. The exercises, which decrease the median nerve pressure responsible for CTS, should be done at the start of each work shift, as a warmup exercise and again after each break.

• Stand up straight, feet a foot apart, arms outstretched in front of you, palms down. Then bring your hands and fingers up, pointing toward the sky. Hold for a count of five. Straighten both wrists and relax the fingers. Make a tight fist with both hands. Then bend both wrists down while keeping the fists. Hold for a count of five. Straighten both wrists and relax the fingers for a count of five. The exercise should be repeated 10 times. Then let your arms hang loosely at your sides and shake them for a couple of seconds. Don’t rush through the exercise. Let the 10 cycles take about five minutes.

One Expert’s Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Cure

The late James A. Duke, PhD, a botanist formerly with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland, and one of the world’s leading authorities on herbal healing traditions, said to us that he used a computer as much as 14 hours a day. But he never developed any CTS symptoms. He gave some of the credit to the fact that men have an advantage.

“Women develop carpal tunnel problems more than men do,” Dr. Duke said, “because the cyclical hormone fluctuations of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause can contribute to swelling of the tissues that surround the carpal tunnel.”

Another reason he was spared the discomfort of CTS is hand exercises.” Adopting a Chinese technique that improves flexibility,” he said, “I hold two steel balls in one hand and roll them around when I’m not typing. The Chinese balls provide a gentle form of exercise, and the rolling motion massages the tiny muscles and ligaments of the hands and wrists.” So, when you’re working a long stretch at the computer, take frequent breaks to twirl steel Chinese balls in each hand. Chinese balls are inexpensive and readily available at Chinese markets or online. Some health food stores may also carry them.

If You Use a Computer…

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Washington, DC, recommends that you…

◆ Position the screen at eye level, about 22 to 26 inches away.

◆ Sit about arm’s length from the terminal. At that distance, the electrical field is almost zero.

◆ Face forward and keep your neck relaxed.

◆ Position the keyboard so that your elbows are bent at least 90 degrees, and you can work without bending your wrists.

◆ Use a chair that supports your back, lets your feet rest on the floor or on a footrest, and keeps thighs parallel to the floor.

◆ If you can step away from the computer for 15 minutes every hour, it can help prevent eyestrain. Also, frequent blinking will help prevent eye irritation, burning and/ or dry eyes.

For more information, see the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders

Herbs for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

In his book The Green Pharmacy (Bottom Line Books), Dr. Duke lists quite a few herbs that can help alleviate CTS.

Willow bark, the original source of aspirin, contains chemicals (salicylates) that both relieve pain and reduce inflammation. You might also try other herbs rich in salicylates, notably meadowsweet and wintergreen.

With any of these herbs, steep one to two teaspoons of dried, powdered bark, or five teaspoons of fresh bark, for 10 minutes or so, then

Sunrise Salsa
1 ⁄2 ripe papaya (about 1 ⁄2 pound), seeded, skinned and diced.
1 ⁄2 ripe mango, seeded, skinned, and diced 1 ⁄2 cup diced fresh pineapple (canned pineapple is fine)
 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced.
4 green onions trimmed and thinly sliced.
2 to 4 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil or fresh mint.
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Combine papaya, mango, pineapple, cucumber, jalapeños, green onions, basil or mint and lime juice in a small glass bowl. Toss gently just to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, for up to one hour. Makes about 21 ⁄2 cups. If making the salsa ahead of time, add the papaya and pineapple just before serving. Otherwise, the salsa will get watery.


strain out the plant material. You can add lemonade to mask the bitter taste. Dr. Duke advised drinking three cups of tea a day. He cautioned that if you’re allergic to aspirin, you probably shouldn’t take aspirin-like herbs.

• Chamomile contains active compounds (bisabol, chamazulene and cyclic esters) that also have potent anti-inflammatory action. Dr. Duke says, “If I had CTS, I’d drink several cups of chamomile tea a day.”

• Ray C. Wunderlich, Jr., MD, PhD, director of the Wunderlich Center for Nutritional Medicine in St. Petersburg, Florida, adds devil’s claw and burdock to the list of herbs that often help.

• Another option is to try bromelain, the proteolytic (protein-dissolving) enzyme found in pineapple. According to Dr. Duke, “Naturopaths suggest taking 250 to 1,500 mg of pure bromelain a day, between meals, to treat inflammatory conditions such as CTS.” Bromelain is available at health food stores. Since ginger and papaya also contain helpful enzymes, Dr. Duke, who favors food sources to store-bought supplements, suggests, “You might enjoy a proteolytic CTS fruit salad composed of pineapple and papaya and spiced with grated ginger.” (See recipe above.)

• One more suggestion from Dr. Duke— “Also known as cayenne, red pepper contains six pain-relieving compounds and seven that are anti-inflammatory. Especially noteworthy is capsaicin. You might add several teaspoons of powdered cayenne to 1 ⁄4 cup of skin lotion and rub it on your wrists. Or you could make a capsaicin lotion by steeping five to 10 red (hot) peppers in two pints of rubbing alcohol for a few days. Just wash your hands thoroughly after using any topical capsaicin treatment, so you don’t get it in your eyes. Also, since some people are quite sensitive to this compound, you should test it on a small area of skin before using it on a larger area. If it seems to irritate your skin, discontinue use.”

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