THE CARPAL TUNNEL
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel is comprised of small bones and protects a main nerve, which affects the sensation and mobility of your thumb and the following three fingers. Compression of the nerve produces numbness, tingling and, eventually, hand weakness in your nine corresponding tendons. A number of factors can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), including the anatomy of your wrist, certain underlying health problems, and repetitive patterns of hand use.
Every year more than 500,000 people in the US undergo surgeries for CTS with surgery for CTS coming in among the most common hand surgeries. In various trials, 70 – 90% of patients who underwent surgery were free of nighttime pain afterward.
With those statistics, I suppose carpal tunnel surgeries are working. Patients are indeed reporting less pain while they sleep, but what about their pain level during the day? When I worked in a traditional physical therapy clinic I saw numerous post-surgical carpal tunnel clients every week. As my patient’s neared discharge, I made it a point to ask how much better they felt after surgery, and rehab, on a percentage level. Almost everyone reported that their relief was about a 20-30 percent improvement! As a young PT, I knew I had some research to do because I wanted people to become pain-free.
I’m not going to go all psychosomatic on you about carpal tunnel syndrome. There may certainly be an energetic component, but most of the time I’ve seen this problem as a structural issue. Anyone can unquestionably associate with the victim archetype after years of doctor visits, steroid injections, medications, and physical therapy appointments. And, to really make things interesting, surgery culminates as the cherry on top. However, as the incisions heal and therapy follows, these victims finally become tired of inhibiting the patient path. Upon my evaluations of them post-surgery, I can hear the desperation in their voice. They just want the pain to stop.
And here’s what I’ve learned—CTS is a shoulder problem, not a wrist issue. Rounded shoulders, with a forward head posture, contribute to tight muscular tissue under the axilla (armpit area). The axilla is a main thoroughfare of arteries and nerves that communicate to the hands. The carpal tunnel becomes tight because of the lack of mobility of the upstairs joints—elbow, shoulder, and cervical spine.
So, grab a foam roller and start with these two exercises. And, if you don’t have a foam roller feel free to use a tennis ball under the side of your armpit, anything to loosen the stagnant energy in the axilla.
LAT ROLLING (click to enlarge)
Find that thick muscular area under your armpit where it meets your shoulder blade. Roll up and down to massage the tightness. Yes, it can be very painful so make sure you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Start rolling for a minute and build up to three to five minutes on both sides.
THORACIC SPINE OPENING (click to enlarge)
Reach up and over the foam roller. Make sure to keep your chest open and arms overhead trying to be as comfortable as possible. You can add to the exercise by lifting your hips and rolling out your mid back area.
Both of these exercises will improve your posture helping to pull the shoulders back. You’ll find a freeing up of the stagnation under the armpit area providing you with a proper blood and neurological flow.
For a couple weeks, you can add some simple wrist circles after performing these exercises. Make these movements a daily habit, especially if you repetitively use your hands!
Photography by Mike Rosenthal