Jan 052010
 
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That wrist pain some students develop after endless hours typing papers and chatting on Facebook may be more serious than simple joint stiffness.

But Michael Farrell, a local spine specialist, is offering a new treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome as an alternative to surgery.

Farrell, owner of the Spine Correction Center of the Rockies in Fort Collins, said CTS is a medical condition that occurs when the carpal tunnel, a passageway of bone and ligaments located in the wrist, narrows and compresses the main nerve running from the neck to the hand.

Students are more prone, he said, because of a combination of poor posture and repetitive movements of the hand while doing activities such as typing. Symptoms include, but are not limited to: pain in the wrist, weakness of the hand and numbness in the fingers.

“I would say it’s not uncommon to see students with carpal tunnel symptoms,” Hartshorn Health Center physician Jane Higgins said.

According to American Family Physician journal, CTS affects approximately three percent of adults in the United States.

Farrell’s new treatment is designed to address all the points where the nerve involved is being crushed.

“The nerve starts at the spinal cord and then it travels out of the neck to the shoulder joint, across the elbow joint and then out across the wrist,” Farrell said.

“Typically (CTS) is misdiagnosed,” he said. “It’s usually another type of syndrome called the double crush syndrome. This is where the nerve is being crushed at the actual carpal tunnel but also along one of those other paths.”

In the past, Farrell said carpal tunnel has just been treated at the wrist, but his new therapy aims at treating all the affected areas.

“It’s like a garden hose … that starts at your neck and works it’s way down. If the hose you are using has multiple kinks in it and the only kink that you deal with is at the wrist, the problem isn’t really solved.”

Surgery, however, is not usually necessary for treating CTS.

“Carpal tunnel requires surgery in probably less than 10 percent of people who have it … so alternatives to surgery are always the first choice of treatment for (CTS),” Higgins said.

Farrell, who has been offering this treatment for more than three years, said he is confident that his treatment is more effective than surgery even in those who, in the past, may have required it.

“We haven’t had a case of carpal tunnel that we haven’t been able to relieve,” he said.

Among other new therapy techniques, Farrell utilizes a piece of equipment called a spinal decompression machine, which is like a padded table that gently pulls the spine to decompress it.

“It’s a type of computerized traction module that allows us to stretch the musculature of the neck, which is typically the largest problem area,” Farrell said.

This new treatment costs between $1,500 and $4,000. The cost of surgery and rehabilitation is in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 according to www.mycarpaltunnel.com.

Staff writer K.C. Fleming can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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