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Carpal tunnel syndrome is considered mysterious to conventional medicine. Now we find proof that nature helps solve the riddle of the carpal tunnel by virtue of flaxseed oil - also referred to as linseed oil.
Years ago as a little league baseball player I would rub linseed oil onto my baseball glove because it made the glove softer and more pliable. This trick allowed me to catch the ball better. It also lengthened the life of the glove.
Little did I or anyone else know the external application of linseed oil (Latin name Linum usitatissimum) – also referred to in nutrition as flaxseed oil – can also treat carpal tunnel syndrome.
But can treating carpal tunnel syndrome really be compared to rubbing oil onto a baseball glove?
What is carpal tunnel syndrome anyway?
According to conventional theory, carpal tunnel is caused by the entrapment and subsequent pressure on to the median nerve along with accompanying tendons that wind through the carpal tunnel. Some have therefore suspected repetitive motion as a potential cause.
The carpal tunnel is a small hallow in the region of the wrist where a number of small bones also coexist.
While conventional theory assumes a cause related strictly to alignment and physical function, it doesn't explain why the condition is related to hypothyroidism, diabetes, obesity and rheumatism.
The intermittent and sometimes chronic tingling, pain and numbness of the hands resulting from carpal tunnel syndrome has also been associated with depression and even pregnancy.
While the purpose of this article is not to pursue all the potential causes, I might include that one of the most used temporary treatments to the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome is corticosteroids.
And as most medical professionals know, corticosteroid injections work by halting the inflammatory processes that occur among the various tissues.
And since corticosteroid injections are effective in the temporary relief of the syndrome, we can safely conclude that inflammation plays a large part in the condition.
And it so happens that greater levels of inflammation are also seen in hypothyroidism, diabetes, rheumatism and depression.
Flaxseed oil relieves pain and increases motion for carpal tunnel
This element ties precisely into the use of flaxseed oil because flax has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation.
This fact was illustrated in a study published in late 2014 in the DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. This double-blind and randomized clinical study was conducted with 100 patients, of which 155 hands with carpal tunnel syndrome were tested.
In other words, both wrists are not always involved in the condition – for a reason not well understood.
At any rate, all 100 patients had mild to moderate conditions, and they were between 18 and 65 years old. The patients were randomized and divided into two groups. One group was treated with flaxseed oil and the other group was treated with a placebo oil.
Both groups were given a wrist splint to use at night and were told to apply the flaxseed oil onto the wrist and upper hands daily for four weeks.
Before and after the treatment, the patients were given a battery of tests and functional assessments, which included the Boston Carpal Tunnel Questionnaire and its functional status assessment. These rate the patient's levels of pain, numbness, tingling and other symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as mobility and function.
After the four weeks, the patients who applied the flaxseed oil had significant improvement compared to the placebo group using both of the above-mentioned assessments.
Scores on the Boston symptom test went from 2.74 to 1.90 on average during the four weeks for those who were treated with the flaxseed oil. For those who applied the placebo oil, the scores went from 2.79 to 2.59.
Meanwhile, during the four weeks, scores on the Boston function tests went from 2.61 to 2.17 in the flaxseed group and went from 2.41 to 2.59 in the placebo group.
Flaxseed oil as anti-inflammatory treatment
Many have proposed and utilized flaxseed oil externally, to help reduce wrinkles and soothe the skin in general. While I haven't found any studies to substantiate these uses, there are numerous studies showing the internal consumption of flaxseed oil has numerous benefits, including the potential to help prevent diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, there is clear indication that flaxseed consumption may improve memory and cognition - making it useful for dementia.
All of these conditions, by the way, are related to inflammation. Flaxseed is high in omega-3 fatty acids such as alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA has been linked directly to reducing inflammation, as it inhibits the cyclooxygenase (COX) inflammatory pathways of COX-1 and COX-2. These inflammatory pathways are linked to numerous conditions, including the ones mentioned above, and of course, carpal tunnel syndrome.
Flaxseeds contain between 35 and 45 percent oil. Of this about 10 percent is palmitic and stearic acids, about 20 percent is oleic acid and other monounsaturates, and over 70 percent is alpha linolenic-type fatty acids.
Flax also contains significant protein levels, between 20 and 30 percent. It is also rich in B vitamins and minerals, as well as gamma-tocopherol – an antioxidant form of vitamin E.
Flaxseeds also contain a special type of lignan called secoisolariciresinol diglucoside. This is a phytoestrogen and significant antioxidant. Flax is the best source of this important anti-inflammatory lignan.
Because the skin does quite certainly absorb what is applied to it, it is not such a reach to assume the very omega-3 fatty acids, phytoestrogens and antioxidants that reduce inflammation when flaxseed is taken internally will have similar effects when applied externally.
My old baseball glove certainly shows some of these effects.
Hashempur MH, Homayouni K, Ashraf A, Salehi A, Taghizadeh M, Heydari M. Effect of Linum usitatissimum L. (linseed) oil on mild and moderate carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Daru. 2014 May 21;22:43. doi: 10.1186/2008-2231-22-43.
Akhtar S, Ismail T, Riaz M. Flaxseed - a miraculous defense against some critical maladies. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2013 Jan;26(1):199-208.
Martinchik AN, Baturin AK, Zubtsov VV, Molofeev VIu. Nutritional value and functional properties of flaxseed. Vopr Pitan. 2012;81(3):4-10.
Jäger AK, Petersen KN, Thomasen G, Christensen SB. Isolation of linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids as COX-1 and -2 inhibitors in rose hip. Phytother Res. 2008 Jul;22(7):982-4. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2446.