There was a time when I was incredibly skeptical of what one might call “alternative medicine”, including herbal supplements, massage therapy, acupuncture,and anything else not prescribed by a doctor. However, I have come to appreciate that medical science doesn’t have all the answers.
In my struggle with repetitive stress injuries – mostly carpal tunnel but also tendinitis – I have found herbal supplements to be a surprisingly useful remedy for the inflammation that one constantly struggles with in these conditions.
The enemy of most repetitive stress conditions (excepting tendinosis) is inflammation. Inflammation, normally the natural healing response of the body, needs to be kept in check only during an acute tendinitis condition, but carpal tunnel sufferers face a constant battle with inflammation.
Without going into too much detail, carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the tendons of the wrist become inflamed and swollen, reducing the space available for the median nerve to pass through the “carpal tunnel”. As a result, the median nerve gets squeezed, and the sufferer has to deal with tingling hands, being woken up in the middle of the night by an arm that is “asleep”, and in some cases permanent nerve damage.
Besides inflammation, there are also some remedies that promise to help regenerate tendon tissue.
I’ve tried the following herbs, vitamins, and supplements at different times over a ten-year period, which means to some degree I’ve been able to try each of these in isolation. With some, I can feel the effects within a few hours, with others I must make inferences from long-term trends in my pain and nerve irritation.
Anti-Inflammatories (For carpal tunnel, tendinitis)
Fish oil concentrate (EHA/DHA) – This is singularly the most important supplements I’ve ever tried. Anecdotally, I believe that its anti-inflammatory effects are on par with NSAIDs like ibuprofen – without the stomach irritation. If I am having an issue with tingling hands, a dose of fish oil (three tablets at standard strength, one at triple strength) will usually either eliminated completely or greatly reduce it over the span of two or three hours.
The anti-inflammatory capabilities of fish oil are well supported by the scientific community and many studies but there are many additional benefits. Fish oil is suspected to have a beneficial effect on cognitive ability, and it has also been shown to raise HDL, a helpful cholesterol carrier.
Side effects are essentially nonexistent, making this supplements a no-brainer as an inflammatory condition remedy.
Ginger root – Also a natural anti-inflammatory, ginger root has been used for thousands of years to treat many different ailments. My perception is that its anti-inflammatory effectiveness is less than that of fish oil, although the fact that it is so cheap keeps it on my list.
I can also say that its anti-nausea and anti-motion sickness properties come in useful on occasion. Side effects are mild, but I’ve experienced a little indigestion if I take it on an empty stomach
Turmeric – Turmeric is a powdered herb used in Asian cooking. It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and also for being a very powerful antioxidant.
Frankly, I don’t have much to say about this one. Its properties say that it should help, I feel like it does a little bit, and I haven’t experienced any side effects.
Nerve Supplements (For carpal tunnel)
Vitamin B complex (B-100) – After doing quite a bit of digging, I have found references to a number of doctors claiming that high doses of vitamin B promote healing in nerve tissue. In some cases, doctors claim that they can cure carpal tunnel in a matter of months just with vitamin B supplements. This claim is a bit over the top, but I do believe that there is some truth here.
Unfortunately, I didn’t try this supplement in isolation (it was taken in conjunction with fish oil and ginger), but I believe that there were some beneficial effects over a several month period. This is in addition to the well supported claim that healthy vitamin B levels promote energy and alertness.
One must be careful, however, because the vitamin B-100 dose provides up to 1000% of the recommended daily allowance. Everything that I have read indicates that this is still a very safe level, and I have had no trouble over the long term. Interestingly, the indications of a vitamin B overdose are exactly the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome – tingling in the extremities.
The pill itself is rather large, tastes bad, and turns your urine neon yellow. Also, taking it on an empty stomach is not a good idea. For those worried about the dosage, there is also a vitamin B-50 tablet with half the dosage.
Tendon regeneration supplements (For tendinitis and tendinosis)
Vitamin C – There is some science to suggest that vitamin C aids in the regeneration of tendon tissue. Obviously, it is also beneficial to the immune system.
This is actually one of the few supplements that has the backing of scientific studies that show a direct link between vitamin C and type I collagen repair.
Cissus Quadrangularis– And Indian herb that one will find referenced on various weightlifting forums throughout the Internet. The promise is that it is a miracle herb to regenerate tendon tissue. The reviews are glowing, and in several cases the belief in the efficacy of this herb is almost religious.
I purchased a six-month supply, followed the directions for a full loading dose, and continued taking it for three months. Although I don’t recall experiencing any side effects, I don’t recall experiencing any beneficial effects either. I think this was a waste of money.
Doxycycline – Earlier this year, I finished a three month backpacking trip throughout South Asia. Because of my lack of space, I had to leave most of my supplements at home. However, I was placed on low dose (100 mg) doxycycline as an antimalarial agent.
The improvement of my symptoms over the three-month period was substantial. Of course, I also spent hardly any time in front of the computer during the entire trip and got lots of exercise. There is some evidence that low-dose doxycycline promotes tendon healing.
I might add, however, that I was also prescribed Cipro for travelers sickness. I firmly declined to take it due to very few but confirmed cases of tendon rupture. I believe this is true for the entire family of fluoroquinolones.
I have found some of these supplements to be invaluable, and I believe they have a place in any treatment program alongside ergonomic products, exercise, and various forms of massage.
I would be very interested to hear from others about your experiences with the above or any other supplements I might not have heard about.