Beating carpal tunnel/repetitive stress injury

I mentioned my history with CTS/RSI in passing recently. I’ve been asked to elaborate, so I’ll elaborate on beating carpal tunnel.

It’s something I struggled with off and on for a good 10 years. Mostly off, in recent years, which is good. At one point, it was so bad I wasn’t able to unload my dishwasher, because I couldn’t grip the plates long enough. It was career threatening too. I remember when my church moved to a new building in 2000. We started the service in the old building, then marched half a mile south to the new building. My job was to start at the back of the line, snap pictures, run up to the middle, turn around, snap pictures, then run up to the front, snap some pictures, then race as fast as I could to the church, dash up into the loft, load the pics into the computer, load that into a Powerpoint presentation showing the history of the church, and then project it, so that at the beginning of the service, they’d be able to see the entire history of the church–up to and including what had happened five minutes before. Copying that half-dozen pictures and getting them into Powerpoint hurt a lot more than that half-mile run did.

But for the most part, a lot of really repetitive spreadsheet work has been the only thing that’s caused it to get bad for the last five years or so.

If you feel it coming on–and by “it,” I mean tingling or pain in your wrists–don’t mess around. There are several things you can get over the counter that help. I tried everything; what worked best was a combination of flax seed oil (1000 mg), vitamin b6 (200 mg), b complex (amount doesn’t matter) and an alfalfa tablet. Start out taking it twice a day, at lunch and dinner, then back off to once a day once the condition improves. The flax oil and b6 give the body what it needs to help nerve damage; the b complex just makes the b6 work better, and the alfalfa is a good all-around source of nutrients.

This regimen got me functioning again. The longer you wait, the longer it takes to work. I take some at the first sign of discomfort, these days. Some people may try to sell you premium vitamins but the stuff from the pharmacy aisle at Target worked fine for me.

The other thing to check is your work area. If your arms and legs don’t form a right angle when you sit down to type, your keyboard is too high. Get that keyboard lower, either by using a keyboard drawer or lowering the desk. I’ve never worked anywhere that had the desk surface low enough, though most computer desks for home use that I’ve seen are at least close.

But the knockout blow for me was a professional therapeutic massage at a chiropractor’s office. The therapist found a number of knots in my shoulders. She attacked them, literally, and got them to loosen up. I felt like I’d had the snot beat out of me for a couple of days, but my arm felt 20 years younger. Seriously. I felt like I could play softball again, and I’m at the age where professional baseball players have to start thinking about hanging it up.

Not every chiropractor offers therapeutic massage, so make a few phone calls, or get a referral from a doctor. “Massage” can be a euphemism for services of questionable legality, so staying near the doctor is a way to stay out of trouble.

I always take flak for this, but surgery shouldn’t be the first course of action. The surgery is non-reversible and can only be done once, so if it flares up again–and I’ve seen it happen to people–you’re limited to this course of action. So you might as well take the less-invasive approach first.

I’m not a doctor, but my father and grandfather were, and that was their philosophy. Sadly, it was controversial even in the 1970s when my grandfather was winding down his practice and Dad was starting his.

3 thoughts on “Beating carpal tunnel/repetitive stress injury

  • November 10, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Why do you choose flax seed oil over fish oil? My wife and I have generally used fish oil, but I am willing to switch if there is a better choice.

    • November 10, 2010 at 11:40 pm

      Fish oil will certainly work. Andrew Weil generally recommends flax seed oil instead, since where it comes from is less ambiguous. But I’ve used fish oil in the past, and if I can’t find flax seed oil for whatever reason, I’ll substitute fish oil.

  • November 12, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    About 8 years ago my kitty sustained a serious injury to his front leg. The vet said the nerve damage was so bad the kitty would never regain any use of his leg and suggested amputation. Though he told me I was grasping at straws, the vet helped me figure out a dosage of these same supplements for a kitty. Within days Mork was moving the leg and soon he was walking–on all four legs and without even a limp!

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