If you have to take a pill to counteract another pill, why not just cut them out altogether?
When I first went to a doctor complaining of wrist pain, she immediately offered me pain killers. I declined, opting instead to take her suggested daily dose of Ibuprofin. What she didn't tell me was that continuing to take this drug for over a month could give me ulcers and stomach bleeding, and sure enough, one month later I was doubled over in pain after every meal. When I told her this during a follow up visit, she recommended another pill to protect my stomach lining. This seemed pretty counter-intuitive to me. If you have to take a pill to counteract another pill, why not just cut them out altogether? The advil wasn't working anyway. I got more relief from heating pads and tiger balm. So I stopped taking pain killers, and within a couple months my stomach was back to normal. My wrists, unfortunately were still the same.
If you read the news with any regularity, you've probably already heard about the FDA's recommended ban the popular prescription painkillers Percocet and Vicodin, because of their effects on the liver. The offending ingredient in both drugs is acetaminophen, aka Tylenol. Although relatively safe at the recommended dose, so many products contain acetaminophen that patients are likely to overdose without realizing it. If you take vicodin in the morning and later use cough syrup or excedrin, you just overdosed.
The ban will probably not happen any time soon, but the fact that it was suggested is pretty worrying. Unless your pain is absolutely unbearable, my advice is to beware of drugs. They usually don't help people with chronic wrist pain in the long run, and they may only mask the source of the problem.
If you have to take a pill to counteract another pill, why not just cut them out altogether?
The blog of herbs and health has a great post on how to give someone (or yourself!) a forearm massage. Releasing muscle tension is key to curing almost any kind of chronic wrist pain, so I recommend you learn how it's done. If you can't afford a private massage, search for massage schools in your local area. They usually offer discounted student massages which can be just as good as the professional variety.
For further instruction, check out this video:
Do you type on a laptop? Well, don't. Laptop keyboards are typically small and flat, which forces you to arch your hands and put undue strain on your wrists. Looking down at the screen also puts a strain on your neck, which can lead to compression of the carpal tunnel.
If you have wrist pain or want to avoid getting it, make sure your work station corresponds to basic ergonomic guidelines. That means that your forearms are parallel to the floor when you type, your back is strait, and your chin is up, like so:
If your desk is too high you will arch your wrists, which is also no good. This is the mistake most people make at work, since desks are at a comfortable height for writing, but not typing.
So what should you do if you use a lap top? Get a second keyboard! I recommend the
Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000.
This is what I use, and it's by far the most popular ergonomic keyboard out there. It's called a split keyboard, because it's split in the middle with each side sloping downwards. This takes a little getting used to, but in the end it's a much more natural position for your wrists. Once I started using it I was able to type at least five times as much without pain. It's very, very worth it. Read more about it here.
You can also buy a fancy computer stand to elevate your laptop so that the screen is directly at eye level. Or you can use a good old fashioned stack of phone books, which are free. Keep it ergo, keep it safe.
If you'd like to hear more about the treatments described in the previous post, there are a number of good sites out there devoted to John Sarno's theories about Tension Myositis Syndrome. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Rachel's RSI homage
Dr. Sarno's website
In the meantime, keep in mind that a large part of the treatment he recommends lies in truly believing that you are fundamentally o.k. - and that there is nothing "structurally" or physically wrong with you. If you feel pain, try not to focus on it. Think instead of the emotional anger or frustration that may be contributing to it, and try to own that frustration. It may be a stretch for some, but a lot of people with carpal tunnel syndrome or other RSI's have experienced partial or complete relief by doing this. Rachel's RSI homage has some great testimonials.
There's also a fair amount of independent evidence that the brain can in fact be trained to increase or decrease the amount of pain you experience. This study by Sean Mackey, a Stanford University pain expert, used MRI brain scans to show that focusing on pain increased it, whereas focusing the attention elsewhere could decrease or even eliminate the sensation of pain.
Whether you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or some other condition, there are a million people pout there who will give you advice on how to deal with your pain. Most of them say basically the same things. But before you continue to treat your wrist pain, I highly recommend you check out Dr. John Sarno's book The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders. Sarno argues that many of the conditions often associated with fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome or back pain are actually caused by various forms of emotional repression. I know it may sound Freudian at first, but there's a lot of evidence to back up his claims. Here's his theory.
Scientists and doctors are increasingly accepting of the fact that the mind and body are not separate entities but part of the same system. Just as your mind can process cues from the body (i.e. pain or pleasure) your body can also be affected by your mind. If you're feeling nervous, your muscles tense up. If you are embarrassed, you might blush. Both of these situations are widely accepted examples of purely emotional reactions being displayed as physical (bodily) phenomena.
Dr. Sarno spent years treating patients with chronic back pain. After a while he began to notice common personality types among his patients. Many of them were perfectionists and chronic do-gooders. They tried hard to please others, and when they failed they often blamed themselves harshly. To make a long story short, Sarno hypothesized that many of these people were repressing feelings of anger and frustration that were harmful to their good self-image. When he made them aware of these feelings, many of his patients experienced immediate relief from their painful symptoms.
This does not mean that their symptoms were imaginary. In all of his writings, Sarno adamantly makes a distinction between real physical pain which is caused by emotions, and "psychosomatic" pain that is merely imagined, or "all in your head." Studies of most of the patients he diagnosed with this condition, which he called "Tension Myositis Syndrome" or TMS, showed one common physical characteristic: decreased blood flow to the areas where they experienced pain. His theory is that this decrease was the mind's attempt to distract the patient from emotions that they did not want to recognize. He also noticed that the decrease occurred in areas of the body where the patient might reasonably expect to feel pain, generally in an area there had been a lot of buzz about in the media. For a long time it was back pain. Then, when Carpal Tunnel Syndrome became a widespread source of attention, more and more people started showing up with pain in their wrists. Coincidence?
Again, this does not mean that these people's pain was "all in their heads." It was very, very real, and was caused by decreased blood flow to their wrists. Other independent studies have shown that decreased blood flow can cause both pain and temporary structural damage to muscle fibers. This study on "Overuse Syndrome," which was cited in the Google blog's entry on carpal tunnel syndrome, is one such example. In keeping with this, Sarno noticed that most of his patients found relief from treatments that increased circulation, such as heat and massage, and none had lasting structural damage once the source of their problem was addressed.
Now I'm not a sucker for self-help books, but I really think there may be some truth to this. What finally sold me was that a group of high achieving Harvard students managed to heal their carpal tunnel syndrome just by following the suggestions in his book. They started a website to document this amazing event, called Harvard RSI Action. It's very worth a read.
I'll be posting more on this later, but for now I highly suggest you keep an open mind to these theories, especially if you've experienced other symptoms associated with TMS, such as back pain, leg pain or stomach problems. Here's an interview with Sarno, just to give you a quick idea of where he's coming from.
One of my biggest problems with the standard medical treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is that, like most western remedies, they treat the symptoms rather than the cause. Let's say you're having pain in your wrists. You go to the doctor and they suggest that your problem is compression of the Median Nerve, the primary "cause" of CTS. But your median nerve doesn't just appear in your wrist and disappear when it hits your elbow. No, it travels all the way past your elbow, up to your shoulders, your neck and (surprise!) your SPINE.
Everyone knows that poor sitting posture contributes CTS, but doctors - especially wrist and hand specialists - rarely ask you how your back and neck is feeling when you tell them your wrists hurt. This is a big mistake on their part. Throwing ibuprofen at the problem won't help you if the muscle tension and poor posture that are causing your pain continue to go untreated.
There's a great post on this issue at Dr. Davis' Back and Neck Blog, which recommends seeing someone with chiropractic experience in the upper spinal regions. My recommendation? Stretch your neck! I'm no doctor, but I know from experience that this can help immensely.
My Favorite Neck Stretches for Wrist Pain
Performing regular neck stretches has been a lifesaver for me. Here is my #1 all time favorite carpal tunnel relieving exercise, which I can reel working all the way down to my fingertips. I highly recommend it.
1. Hold your right arm behind your back, pulling down gently with your left hand. Tilt your head to the left from the crown up, keeping your face and gaze forward, until you feel a stretch in the side of your neck. Hold for 30 seconds.
2. Hold your right arm behind your back, pulling down gently with your left hand.This time, turn your head and face sideways, so that you are looking off to your left. Hold for 30 seconds, switch arms, repeat.
3. Below is another favorite stretch of mine, which is pretty much self explanatory. I especially like the second triceps stretch, since for me the pain often travels all the way up my arms.
There are a lot of voice recognition programs out there, but Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 is by far the best. The Mac version is MacSpeech Dictate, and is basically the same program. It's good too, in fact I'm using it right now! Don't bother with any older or cheeper programs - they don't work. If you want to type without using your hands, get one of these two programs and a decent microphone, and you'll be good to go.
Read reviews of these programs here.