A carpal tunnel syndrome or any kind of repetitive strain injury (RSI) diagnosis can lead to extreme frustration. Especially because oftentimes it’s a skill or work that you love that’s causing the problem. An RSI could arise from typing on your computer. Or maybe it’s your job in construction that requires repetitive work with heavy power tools. It could also result from a sport or the type of artwork you love creating.
Whatever it is that you’ve been doing to cause the injury, you’re now faced with an impossible scenario: Give up the skill you’ve spent so much time on or endure excruciating pain.
Of course, for many whose livelihoods depend on their skills, giving up their work isn’t much of a choice. These folks must find a solution, one that often involves a variety of risky options like surgery, steroids or addictive painkillers.
Thankfully, there’s another option: marijuana.
An RSI is an injury that occurs from repeated use of a particular part of the body such as a tendon, muscle or joint. This repeated use can cause the affected area to swell and become inflamed, thereby compressing or pinching nerves. The repetition can even cause permanent nerve damage.
Folks with an RSI can suffer from a range of symptoms in the affected area including:
While there are many different types of RSIs, a common one is carpal tunnel syndrome. This particular RSI is usually caused by repetitive use of the hands and fingers for tasks like:
For those suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, there are a few potential treatments. The first is to simply stop or reduce the offending activity. If you aren’t able to stop altogether, wear a brace or splint 24/7 to lessen the strain. Certain exercises may also help.
When these low-risk treatments don’t provide relief, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) painkillers like ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and pain. In more severe cases, oral steroids, steroid injections or even surgery may be options to ease the pain and reduce swelling. In cases where the pain persists, some turn to opioid painkillers.
Unfortunately, long-term use of NSAIDs, steroids or opioids can lead to some seriously negative side effects such as liver damage, weak bones, addiction and even death. Opiates alone kill over 42,000 each year, and the rates are only increasing.
You may think over-the-counter painkillers like NSAIDs are a safer choice, but estimates have deaths from NSAIDs at over 15,000 a year. And hospitalizations for NSAID complications, like gastrointestinal bleeding or liver damage, are around 100,000 a year.
With its wide array of medicinal properties, marijuana is a perfect fit for treating these debilitating conditions. Here are a few ways that cannabis works to help those with an RSI manage their symptoms.
Pain relief is a crucial part of treating any RSI, and cannabis is well suited for this task. Chronic pain is actually the most common reason people give for taking cannabis, and studies say that up to 97% of cannabis patients consume the plant for pain.
Pain patients continually report that marijuana provides them with significant pain relief. In fact, in a study by HelloMD and UC Berkeley, 81% of patients reported that cannabis alone was even more effective at relieving their pain than using opioids was.
With RSI, we’re usually dealing with neuropathic pain, specifically. This can be trickier to relieve, but studies show that cannabis can help with neuropathic pain as well.
Cannabis is also well known for its ability to reduce inflammation, which is a major symptom of RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome. Our bodies’ endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the network of receptors that interacts with cannabis. The ECS can reduce inflammation as part of its normal functions, but unfortunately it doesn’t always do so when it’s unbalanced.
Thankfully, when you consume the cannabinoids in marijuana, you can balance your ECS and trigger its anti-inflammatory effects. By taking cannabis to reduce inflammation, you may be able to avoid other options like NSAIDs or steroids to treat your RSI. Once inflammation goes down, the pain from pinched nerves can sometimes diminish or vanish entirely.
For some folks who suffer from an RSI, getting sleep can be hard. And doctors often prescribe sleeping pills to help. But cannabis can provide insomnia relief as well because our ECS is key in regulating sleep.
When stimulated by cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the ECS can activate your body’s natural mechanisms for rest. Studies show that many patients fall asleep easier and more quickly after taking cannabis. Marijuana may be just the trick to help those with RSI get a full night’s sleep.
While nausea isn’t a side effect of RSI, it’s a side effect of some of its treatments—such as NSAIDS and opioids. Luckily, cannabis, especially when inhaled, can quickly combat nausea. For patients still using traditional RSI treatment options, cannabis can help mitigate their effects.
If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or another kind of RSI and think cannabis may be right for you, the best first step is to talk to a doctor. You can consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors who can help guide you on how to best take cannabis for your specific condition.
Photo credit: Alexa Mazzarello