What is the physiology of pain?
A significant part of our ability to interact with the world around us is through our sense of touch. We can lose our sense of vision, hearing, and even taste, but lying just beneath the surface of the skin are thousands of mechanoreceptors responsible for picking up physical signals of pressure, temperature and vibration. Included in those signals is the ability to transmit the signal of pain.
When the body experiences pain, let's say a sliver under the skin, it causes the body to begin the inflammation process. Various pro-inflammatory agents such as prostaglandins are released, signaling to the body that something is going on. These signals are sent through sensory nerve fibers that feed into the spinal cord which takes the signal up to the brain, such as the somatosensory cortex. All of this before the brain sends back a motor signal to move away from the thing causing pain.
How complex is the wrist joint?
The wrist is an interesting joint in that its motion may seem like that of a ball-and-socket, but it's actually an ellipsoid joint with a wide range of motion. This has provided a significant evolutionary advantage in terms of manipulating objects and tools.
What are risk factors of wrist pain?
- Repetitive motions. Day in and day out involving the same motions whether in our home life or at the workplace. When the body engages in certain repetitive motions, the tissue can become inflamed but after a period of rest, the tissue can repair and return to normal. The larger issue arises when there is such a short period of rest (if any) that the body can't repair the microscopic tears that appear in tendons and ligaments.
- Sports. It isn't hard to imagine that the high impact motions involved in various sports can put you at risk for a detrimental injury. Even sports that predominately rely on the work of the lower body such as soccer (football) can see an individual take a tumble, reaching out their arms in front to steady their fall and causing a sprain or strain.
- Osteoporosis. Throughout the body, there are agents known as osteoclasts and osteoblasts hard at work as they break down and build bone respectively. When the body underproduces bone or disassembles too much, it isn't hard to see how this might weaken the joint structure. Without an adequate foundation, the risk of pain and fracture increase. Interestingly enough, wrist fractures are often the earliest sign of osteoporosis and put individuals at a higher risk of a repeat fracture.
- Pregnancy. What may come as a surprise is the fact that the prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy has been reported to be as high as 62%. This could lead to numbness and tingling in the thumb and index fingers as well as a loss of grip strength and dexterity as the tissues compress the median nerve running through the wrist.
- Arthritis. This word at its core means inflammation of the joint, whether it's wrist, ankle or shoulder. When the tissues are inflamed, they also swell making it more difficult to move the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most common type of arthritic condition, is found in over 1 in 6 Canadians, with that number expected to jump to 1 in 5 Canadians by 2036.
What are my options to prevent the condition?
Treatment is different from prevention, and so while it may be easy to say, "Avoid the risk factors above", that isn't realistic. There are a multitude of health benefits with any physical activity, and avoiding pregnancy because of an increased risk of transient carpal tunnel syndrome seems a poor reason. Steps for prevention involve optimizing your health to prevent various conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis.
Let vitamin D and calcium be your new health cocktail.
Vitamin D, acquired through diet or more efficiently through time spent in the natural daylight, plays a role in allowing calcium to be absorbed into the body. Without enough vitamin D circulating through the blood, even the most calcium-rich diet suddenly seems a waste. The calcium, once absorbed, can ensure adequate levels are deposited in the bone and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. If you're unable to spend enough time outside, it might be worth talking to your primary care provider about adding in a vitamin D supplement to your diet. As it's a fat-soluble vitamin, taking an oil emulsion in the form of drops means you can take it whenever you want while the tablets need to be taken with a meal.
What about finding relief through herbal products?
Here at A.Vogel, we're big fans of two plants in particular. One plant growing in the mountainous regions of Siberia, central Europe and North America is known as Arnica montana, a plant with anti-inflammatory compounds that can be applied topically with products such as Absolüt Arnica. The rich yellow-gold colour of the product reflecting the concentration of plant compounds from the bright yellow flower itself.
Other options include Harpagophytum procumbens also known as Devil's Claw due to the look of the plant species, native to southern Africa, that is rich in harpagosides. These members of the iridoid glycoside family exhibit potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects and is commonly used in the treatment of joint conditions, which reflects our aptly named Joint Pain Relief. No need to suffer in silence any longer as you find ways to optimize your health and treat the symptoms.