Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Can Weekly Chiropractic Treatment
Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I have seen a chiropractor regularly for years for symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. However, I have found some relief through massage therapy and simply wearing a splint on the irritated wrists as well as prayerful support.

My question is: The chiropractor I see now initially asked that I come in three times per week. I challenged him and instead decided to come once a week. He is rather adamant about my coming in weekly. Incidentally, even after spinal x-rays, he did not sit down and discuss progress with me. Is he expecting me to come once per week for the rest of my life? That is absurd!

Answer

The causes of carpal tunnel sundrome include fluid retention, compression, or repetitive irritation of the median nerve that passes between tendons and under ligaments on the palm side of the wrist. This can result in pain, numbness, and weakness in the part of the hand supplied by the median nerve, most often the thumb and the first two fingers. The pain may be more severe at night.

A wrist splint worn during the night to keep the wrist in a neutral position might help prevent irritation of the median nerve. Occasionally, however, a wrist splint will aggravate the problem. Physical therapy, such as ultrasound or a cold pack, imay also help.

If your symptoms have not resolved after "years" of treatment by your chiropractor, it's not likely that such treatment is any more beneficial than massage, rest, and other simple self-help measures.

While most cases of carpal tunnel syndrome will subside with time, rest, and behavior modification, surgery or corticosteroid injection is sometimes necessary to relieve nerve pressure in the wrist in order to prevent permanent damage and weakness in the hand. Inability to grasp a pencil or pickup a cup of coffee would be cause for alarm. Nerve damage can be detected or monitored with a procedure called electromyography.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is not related to the spine and does not call for spinal x-rays or for spinal manipulation. If your chiropractor is giving you spinal adjustments as a treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome, I would make a quick exit from his office and consult an orthopedist or a neurologist. Carpal tunnel syndrome is often misdiagnosed and must be differentiated from such conditions as fascitis, tenosynovitis, or nerve root entrapment in the neck or the elbow.

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient's Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic's history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This page was posted on May 2, 2002.