Millions of people have damage to the median nerve, which flows through the carpal tunnel in the wrist to the hand. Most of the time the problem is something called a repetitive motion injury. You pound on a keyboard or swing a hammer or push a needle or lift a brick so many times that the tissue around the median nerve becomes scarred and fibrous. The nerve gets "trapped" in the carpal tunnel that protects it. The more the tissue around the nerve is injured, the tougher it gets, and the more it presses down on the nerve.
Two major things happen when the carpal tunnel gets thick. The pressure on the nerve itself slows down the conduction of electrical impulses from point to point in the nerve. Your had may simply not respond like it used to. Your thumb may droop. You may have to pick up things very slowly to avoid dropping them. Your fingers may just not "go" like they are supposed to.
The other major change around the nerve is blocking circulation. Tiny blood vessels cannot reach the nerve to supply it with oxygen and nutrients. This causes the nerve to "demyelinate." The outer, conductive layer of the nerve gets thinner and becomes less conductive. However, the nerve can also "remyelinate" and regain its former conductivity under certain circumstances.
What can you do to encourage the recovery of the nerve function you lost?
- Stop whatever it is you were doing that caused the damage to your carpal tunnel. There is just no way your median nerve can recover if you keep increasing the amount of scar tissue around it. I know it can be really hard to find a way to earn a living while you are recovering from a repetitive stress injury, but this time off from work could make the difference between eventually returning to your job or never returning to your job.
- Take vitamin B6. You don't need a megadose. You don't need any special formulation of the vitamin. Just make sure you take 120 mg a day. The vitamin won't increase your muscle strength, but it will help with burning, numbness, and tingling.
- Take acetyl-L-carnitine. This amino acid helps cells use oxygen more efficiently. Your median nerve isn't getting enough oxygen, and the supplement in a small way helps it deal with reduced circulation. A 500 to 2000 mg dose every day is enough. Your results won't be dramatic but it helps. It works best if you also have enough biotin in your system. A 5000 microgram dose of biotin every day is enough.
- Don't take supplemental vitamin C unless you take vitamin B6. Without B6, vitamin C can become "pro-oxidant" in the low-oxygen environment of the carpal tunnel.
- Do "tendon gliding" or "nerve gliding" exercises. If you have severe pain, you may not be able to do this. You can find training videos online. The training by Pat Stanzione, The Proactive Athlete, are a good place to start.
- Get a wrist splint. Even if you just use it at night, a wrist splint relieves stress on the carpal tunnel around the median nerve and supports healing.
What if you have severed your median nerve? As you quickly find out, some of the muscles in your arm and hand are controlled by the median nerve and some are not. You may still be able to use the muscles that are controlled by your ulnar nerve.
Nerves regrow at a rate of about 1 inch (2.5 cm) a month. The higher your median nerve was severed, the longer it will take to regrow. While you are waiting, you can do all of the above and:
- Do specific exercises prescribed by your doctor for your nerve injury.
- If your doctor agrees, try TENS (transcutaneous electroneural stimulation). These devices have become relatively inexpensive and readily available for home use.
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