breech baby
making sense


A new-old treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome?
Yoga is an ancient practice of health that originated in India that concentrates on improving the harmony of body and mind by increasing bodily awareness and relaxation. Many yoga positions involve deep stretching and, as such, could help the repetitive trauma disorders -- tendinitis, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

These conditions -- a fast-growing source of disability among keypunchers (sounds like us Why Filers!), carpenters, supermarket clerks and assembly line workers -- afflict the soft tissue (muscles, cartilage, tendons and joints). They can become chronic sources of pain and disability.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a pinching of the median nerve as it passes through the wrist. The syndrome can result from overuse, illness or obesity; it causes pain, tingling, numbness, and loss of grip strength. Standard treatments include splinting, anti-inflammatory drugs, changes in hand use or injections. Eventually, surgery may be needed to release the ligament that compresses the nerve.

Conventional doctors often prescribe stretching for carpal tunnel and other repetitive trauma disorders, but there's been no proof that the sustained stretching and relaxation of yoga works -- until now.

Testing, testing
To test the idea, University of Pennsylvania researchers led by Marian Garfinkel randomly divided 51 people with carpal tunnel syndrome into treatment and control groups. The control group received a splint to immobilize the joint. The treatment group got twice-weekly Iyengar yoga classes, focused, the researchers wrote, "on upper body postures; improving flexibility; correcting alignment of hand, wrists, arms, and shoulders; stretching; and increasing awareness of optimal joint position during use." (See "Yoga-Based Intervention..." in the bibliography.)

After eight weeks, when the groups were tested to gauge the intensity of carpal tunnel syndrome, the yoga group saw significant improvements in pain and grip strength. Although other symptoms were unchanged, pain and grip strength are important to patients, says David Bozentka, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bozentka, who was not associated with the study, says he'll often ask patients with repetitive trauma disorders to stretch. He found the results convincing, and says yoga could be worth including in physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome. But he notes that a single study is never conclusive, and wants more research.

Aside from simply physical stretching soft tissues, Bozentka says yoga may have another contribution. "There are psycho-social issues beyond simple nerve compression which may make symptoms worse for some carpal tunnel syndrome patients." Yoga, he says, could help with these stresses and thus reduce symptoms. And although there's no data yet, Bozentka suspects it might also help other repetitive trauma disorders.

So yoga improves carpal tunnel syndrome. Don't tell me herbs can cure bowel woes.

back more
The Why Files
There are 1 2 3 4 5 6 pages in this feature.
Bibliography | Credits | Feedback | Search

©1998, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents.