Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition caused by a compressed nerve in the hand. It causes pain, numbness, tingling, and a variety of other symptoms, and affects roughly 3% of the world population. Luckily, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, cannabis may offer an attractive treatment option to patients with carpal tunnel syndrome.

WHAT IS CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a painful condition affecting the wrist area. More specifically, it is caused by the pinching of the median nerve (one of the largest nerves in the hand). Carpal tunnel syndrome is a recurring condition that tends to get worse over time, meaning it’s important to diagnose and begin treatment as soon as possible.

Continuous pressure on the median nerve can, over time, cause serious nerve damage. This damage is permanent and leads to worse, more intense symptoms.

The carpal tunnel runs through the wrist and serves as a small passageway that protects the median nerve as it passes from the hand to the arm, running all the way up to the neck. The median nerve is one of the main nerves in the hand and controls feeling in the fingers as well as the muscles around the thumb.

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the carpal tunnel compresses the median nerve. This can happen either when the carpal tunnel narrows or when a special tissue surrounding the flexor tendons in the hand swells. This swelling can compress the carpal tunnel and put pressure on the median nerve.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME?

The external pressure that compresses the median nerve causes a wide variety of symptoms. The severity of these symptoms tends to increase over time. When not treated properly, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause permanent damage to the median nerve, which only increases the severity of symptoms.

Some of the main symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness in the hand
  • Shock-like sensations that run through the fingers
  • Pain and shocks running up the arm towards the shoulder

WHAT CAUSES CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME?

Research suggests that carpal tunnel syndrome is most common in elderly women. There are a number of factors that might increase a person’s risk of developing this condition, including:

  • Genetics: Physical traits like smaller wrists and a more confined carpal tunnel can increase a person's risk of developing CTS. These physical traits may likely be passed on from one generation to another.
  • Hand movement and flexion: Repeated hand movements or engaging in activities that require extreme flexing of the wrists, hands, and fingers may aggravate the tendons in the wrist and cause swelling, which ultimately affects the median nerve.
  • Arthritis: The swelling of the joints in the hand and wrist may affect the carpal tunnel.

How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Commonly Treated

HOW IS CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME COMMONLY TREATED?

Carpal tunnel treatment starts with a medical examination. Your doctor will diagnose you with the condition based on your symptoms as well as a physical examination, which will include tapping, bending, and pressing on various parts of your hand. They will also examine the sensitivity in your hands and, in some cases, use electrophysiological tests as well as imaging like ultrasound, MRIs, and x-rays to better identify the cause of your symptoms.

Once diagnosed, treatment will vary depending on the severity of your symptoms and the stage of your carpal tunnel syndrome. When detected early, the symptoms of CTS can usually be treated with non-surgical methods, including:

  • Bracing and splinting: This keeps the wrist in a neutral position and minimises pressure on the carpal tunnel.
  • NSAID treatment: NSAIDs are safe, well-tolerated drugs that can help relieve the pain and inflammation of this condition.
  • Steroid injections: Corticosteroids are strong anti-inflammatory agents that can help treat carpal tunnel flare-ups.
  • Exercises: Some doctors get their patients to practice specific exercises designed to help alleviate symptoms and relieve pressure around the median nerve.
  • Lifestyle changes: Your doctor will help you identify activities that put extra pressure on your carpal tunnel and exacerbate your symptoms. This may affect your work, exercise regime, or some hobbies that require you to flex or stretch your hand and wrist regularly or for prolonged periods of time.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be treated using surgical procedures. These procedures, known as carpal tunnel release, aim to relieve the pressure around the median nerve by increasing the size of the tunnel. The need for surgery will depend on the severity of your symptoms.

HOW CAN CANNABIS HELP WITH CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME?

There is now a solid body of research showing that cannabis has powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. These properties come from the cannabinoids and terpenes that are extracted from the plant, like THC, CBD, α-pinene, and many more.

Given that the main symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are pain and inflammation, cannabis is an attractive treatment option. And while regular medications like NSAIDs and steroids can offer effective relief from carpal tunnel symptoms, their misuse or continued use can cause side effects.

NSAIDs, for example, can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, heartburn, headaches, dizziness, liver and kidney problems, high blood pressure, and much more. Studies show that in the US, around 100,000 people are hospitalised every year from gastrointestinal issues related to NSAIDs alone. Some of the anti-inflammatory compounds in cannabis, on the other hand, can be just as effective without producing nearly as many side effects.

Over the last decade, countless studies have shown that various constituents of cannabis have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. In 2013, for example, researchers from the Tongji University School of Medicine found that CBD significantly decreased inflammation in an animal-based study of pancreatitis.

In 2012, a study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology showed that CBD decreased inflammation in rats with acute lung injury. In 2011, researchers from the University of Naples Federico II found CBD also reduced chronic inflammation in the gut. Other studies show how CBD can help reduce inflammation caused by arthritis, IBS, and much more.

THC, often the most concentrated cannabinoid in cannabis, also has anti-inflammatory effects and is renowned for offering fast relief from pain. Studies also show that cannabinoids and other components found in marijuana can help reduce neuropathic pain. This means that these cannabinoids may prove beneficial in treating the pain associated with multiple sclerosis, allodynia, and many other conditions.

The fact that cannabinoids can help with neuropathic pain is another reason why cannabis is a promising treatment option for carpal tunnel syndrome, seeing as the condition can cause nerve damage and nerve pain such as tingling, shocks, and numbness.

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