Dealing with Carpal Tunnel
Every now and then I wake up with pain in my neck or back after sleeping “funny,” and this always leads me to count my blessings; I know that my pain is temporary, while others suffer from daily pain. When I have this temporary pain, I know it affects every aspect of my being and makes me cranky, tired, and less ambitious. I can’t begin to imagine what people with chronic pain must feel like!
I struggled with pain in the form of body aches and stiffness as well as carpal tunnel in both arms in 2010 when I was first diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. It was awful; I had to wear braces on both arms all day and even at night for about 6 months.
I took NSAIDs every day to deal with the pain so that I could get through my workday.
A co-worker suggested surgery to sever a ligament in my wrist so that I wouldn’t feel the pain! I wanted to see if I could get better through less invasive means and had an ergonomic review at work and even got “Dragon Naturally Speaking” a dictation software so I could limit my typing.
This helped a little but, eventually, the pain led me to leave a job I loved because writing medication review reports was unbearable.
In February 2011, I went gluten free and dairy free and received chiropractic care which alleviated the carpal tunnel within a few weeks. Now I no longer have carpal tunnel, though I spend more time on the computer than ever before. I’m so glad I didn’t get that surgery my colleague suggested!
But it could have been worse. Some people have much more debilitating pain that leads to many years of suffering, and in some cases, addiction and even loss of life.
The year was 1998, and I had just started working at Walgreens pharmacy as a pharmacy technician trainee. I was fascinated by pharmacology and the powerful effect that medications could have on a person’s entire body….
How one little pill could reduce blood pressure in the body of a 200 lb person was so amazing to me….
How other medications could give people their lives back when they suffered from depression, infections, or asthma.
I had never taken any medications myself but saw how much medications improved my mom’s asthma. My mom was diagnosed with asthma as an adult, and we had no idea what was triggering it, and the medications were a lifesaver.
I always knew that I wanted to help people with their health. In high school, I came across some of my mom’s old pharmacology textbooks and was inspired to become a pharmacist so that I could give people medications that would save their lives! My dream was to one day find a cure for a health condition 🙂
As a pharmacy technician trainee (at the time), I didn’t have my license yet and wasn’t allowed to touch any of the medications and was training on the “out window,” where people came to get their prescriptions.
A very friendly gentleman came to pick up his prescription, and I promptly retrieved it for him and told him the price. The man stumbled around and didn’t have enough money, “but I need my medication.” Before the pharmacist was able to intervene, I reached into my pocket and pulled out $10. I was 16 years old and hadn’t received my first paycheck, but wanted to help this man get the medications he needed. My parents gave me money so that I could buy snacks during my break, but he needed his medications more than I needed the snacks.
He thanked me profusely, and after he walked away, the elderly pharmacist I worked with told me “You’re going to see people like this, and I want you to know something. They’re not bad people, but they have a problem – a painkiller addiction. Some of them get clean, some of them get worse. You need to be careful because drug addiction can make people act a certain way”.
The man had picked up a prescription for Vicodin, an opioid painkiller. I came to learn he was a “frequent flyer” at the pharmacy. Often losing his medications in the toilet, or “getting them stolen out of his car,” and sometimes altering his prescriptions to add more refills or extra “zeroes” in an effort to get more medications…Eventually, we stopped seeing him and found out he went to rehab. He came in a few months after and apologized to the staff and even gave me my money back.
But not every addiction story has a happy ending. Sadly, some people lose their jobs, families, and even lives due to pain killer addiction.
If you’re in pain or know someone who is…
Whether you’re taking NSAIDs or painkillers like Vicodin, there are things you should know about these medications.
- NSAIDs are not habit forming, and fine for the occasional headache, but everyday use can lead to leaky gut.
- Opioids, on the other hand, can be very addictive 🙁
You have other options, such as
- Chiropractic care
- Physical Therapy
But diet can be the biggest difference and is not expensive….
Going grain free is one of the very first recommendations I make for people who experience pain… Dairy free can make a tremendous difference too.
I want to share a guest blog post from my friend, Dr. Joe Tatta, a physical therapist who is a pain specialist, about three distinct nutritional approaches to address pain.
A Strategic Blueprint to Get Lean, Healthy & Eliminate Pain
Janet was a 49-year-old patient who visited me complaining of joint pain, fatigue, and chronic stress. As a CEO at a large financial firm, she often worked 10-hour days, ate meals (sometimes even dinner) at her desk, and half-joked that she felt like a “weekend wife and mom.”
Besides eliminating pain, Janet desperately wanted to lose about 60 pounds, which she attributed to menopausal-triggered hormonal imbalances. Over the past few years, she’d tried several commercial diets with short-term success that inevitably rebounded. She told me her joints ached more on these diets, no doubt because they failed to address food intolerances and other issues that trigger or exacerbate pain.
I explained to Janet during our first consultation that pain and obesity result from measurable imbalances in the body’s biochemistry that can be corrected with proper nutrition.
For her and countless other patients, things like chronic stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, inflammation, insulin resistance, infections, toxic exposure, and genetic differences mean these core nutritional imbalances have persisted for years or decades, inhibiting the body’s ability to heal, recover, and remain healthy.
Janet expressed frustration about past failures. Persistent pain, low energy, and extra weight left her feeling hopeless, helpless, and discouraged.
I assured her there was hope. There is always a path toward healing. It doesn’t always happen overnight, it’s not a linear path, and it might not be the same plan that worked for your friend.
In my practice, I employ three nutrition plans that yield dramatic improvements in almost all my clients. Not everyone needs to undertake all three plans. Most people will have success with my Core Nutritional Healing to lose weight and eliminate pain. At some point, nearly everyone benefits from eliminating food intolerances. For patients who still struggle with pain and weight, a ketogenic diet often provides that missing link to optimize health.
As you’ll see, with Janet I used all three approaches. Over 10 weeks, she undertook an incredible healing journey that left her lean, vibrant, happy, and pain-free.
Step 1: Core Nutritional Healing
Like nearly everyone, I started Janet with my foundational nutrition principles that help patients lose weight, eliminate pain, and upgrade overall health. Think of Core Nutritional Healing as Nutrition 101.
That foundation plan eliminates highly processed foods, food additives, trans fats, and toxins that contribute to pain and disease. Instead, Janet increased whole foods including healthy fats, protein, antioxidant-rich plant-based foods, and fiber.
As a workaholic who relied on processed and convenience foods, Janet initially seemed hesitant (“I don’t have time to prepare real food,” she told me) but quickly saw how easily that could be. She loved the satisfying flavor of healthy fats like nuts, seeds, eggs, and avocado, which left her satiated and eliminated cravings.
My foundation plan focuses on organic food, free from pesticides and other potential metabolic inhibitors that could contribute to pain. Janet couldn’t afford to eat an entirely organic diet, so I encouraged her to visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which breaks down which fruits and vegetables have the most and fewest pesticides. Processed foods not only are toxic but are also stripped of essential nutrients necessary for health and healing.
I also increased Janet’s fiber intake, which due to her processed diet was dismal during her initial visit. We worked up to 30 grams daily, which was easy thanks to eating plenty of fiber-rich foods like avocado, nuts, and leafy greens.
During her first follow-up visit, Janet had lost seven pounds and found her joints ached less frequently and intensely. She had more energy, slept better, and didn’t stress out so much at work. “I couldn’t believe a diet that tasted so good could also help me lose weight,” she told me.
Step 2: An Elimination Diet
Janet had amazing success with my Core Nutritional Healing plan, yet she complained about post-meal gas and bloating, struggled with seasonal allergies, oftentimes felt anxious, and occasionally broke out with acne. Those symptoms provided clues she had leaky gut.
That’s why I put her on my elimination plan, which provides additional support for conditions like leaky gut, autoimmunity, and chronic inflammation.
While you’ll find many elimination plans, mine is three weeks and based on a 4R gut-healing supplement protocol to improve and even eliminate symptoms: remove, replace, repopulate, and repair.
For three weeks, Janet eliminated gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, soy, and eggs. That isn’t as easy as it may sound since many of these ingredients hide in restaurant dishes and easily slip in when you attend social functions.
Janet learned to be incredibly scrupulous quizzing her server or hostess about these food intolerances. They are everywhere and even a little bit can derail your efforts.
Equally important is what we added during those three weeks, including plenty of fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Janet didn’t love eating them, so I instead gave her a high-dose probiotic supplement.
We also increased her water intake. Hydration becomes essential to clear metabolites and waste products, flushing these and other toxins out of your system. Initially, Janet found drinking more water difficult. She actually set a reminder on her iPhone and kept a liter canteen nearby at work. I recommended lemon to zest things up since she complained plain water tasted “boring.”
Over those three weeks, Janet lost an additional 10 pounds. She also became practically pain free. While initially hesitant that she would regain that weight if she challenged those foods, I had her reintroduce them one at a time to see how she responded.
We started with gluten. On a Monday and Tuesday, she ate whole wheat pasta or bread twice a day. When she got a headache Wednesday afternoon and her skin broke out Thursday morning, Janet knew gluten was off the menu (at least for the foreseeable future).
Interestingly, when we challenged dairy that next week, she did fine, meaning the occasional piece of cheese might be fine. Even so, I warned Janet not to overdo it lest leaky gut and all its ensuing problems resurface.
Our focus here was healing the gut. Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is an invitation to systemic inflammation. And if you have the perfect trifecta of a trigger, intestinal permeability, and a genetic predisposition, autoimmunity can switch on. An elimination diet is essential for removing triggers, healing a leaky gut and can positively influence your genetic expression.
Step 3: Ketogenic Diet
During the subsequent visit after completing her elimination diet, I noticed Janet looked better, had glowing skin, and appeared more confident walking into my office. She told me she no longer struggled with mid-afternoon energy crashes or miserable headaches that hijacked her day.
At the same time, Janet still had about 30 pounds to lose and felt she was plateauing. She had an upcoming high school reunion and wanted to “ditch that excess fat stat.” She was understandably reluctant about get-thin-fast diets she’d past employed, but I had just the solution with a ketogenic diet.
This builds on my foundational and elimination plans: Janet continued to eliminate those five foods (although she could tolerate eggs so we allowed them because they’re a great ketogenic food), and otherwise focused on whole unprocessed foods.
The big difference with a ketogenic diet involves really stepping up healthy fats like grass-fed beef and avocado while dialing down protein and really downsizing carbohydrates.
That doesn’t mean no carbohydrates; Janet simply limited fruit intake to small amounts of berries and ate tons of leafy and cruciferous veggies. I also had her do intermittent fasting and reduce her portion sizes 20 percent.
Intermittent fasting seemed daunting initially, but I assured Janet it was only for three weeks and only 12 hours (most of which she spent sleeping). She finished eating by 7 p.m. and then had breakfast at 7 a.m. While she complained the first few nights she got “10 p.m. munchies,” eventually fasting became easy after she had a healthy fat-rich dinner.
As for portion control, I never ask patients to measure anything. Just use your best judgment, I told Janet, and downsize your eight-ounce steak or wild-caught salmon to six ounces. She still felt satiated eating lots of high-nutrient density foods.
Over those three weeks, Janet lost an additional 12 pounds without feeling hungry or deprived like past “crash diets” made her feel.
There are multiple reasons for the anti-inflammatory effects of a ketogenic diet.
- The changes in the brain seen in people who have seizure disorders are very similar in nature to that of chronic pain and thought to involve increased excitability of neurons, both in the central and peripheral nervous system.
- Reducing glucose metabolism via ketogenic diets has demonstrated clinical improvements regarding metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.
- Fasting has been shown to be analgesic; it alleviates and decreases pain. A ketogenic diet is also likely to be as well, as it mimics a fasting state in the body.
- Ketogenic diets boost a natural chemical in our body called adenosine, which has analgesic or pain relieving effects. A similar mechanism exists with acupuncture.
- Very low-carbohydrate diets, such as a ketogenic diet, are better for reducing weight and maintaining weight loss. Weight reduction is one, if not the most important, factor in the elimination of pain in our modern society.
Some people thrive on ketogenic diets. Janet found her sweet spot. She used ketosis as a therapeutic tool twice a year for 3-weeks. The remainder of the time she maintained a modestly low carbohydrate diet free from dairy, gluten, sugar, and GMOs.
Like Janet, you might feel stuck and frustrated trying to lose weight, eliminate pain, reverse autoimmunity and regain health, I can promise you your situation is not hopeless. I’ve witnessed countless patients who struggled with past plans finally find the hope they’ve searched for with my program.
From my decades working with thousands of patients struggling with weight, pain, and health issues, I’ve written Heal Your Pain Now: The Revolutionary Program to Reset Your Brain and Body for a Pain-Free Life.
In my book, you’ll find a comprehensive roadmap of the three plans Janet benefitted from, including food lists and more strategies to put these plans into action.
You’ll also find simple yet powerfully effective tactics to regain your health while breaking free from excess weight and pain. These are the same strategies I’ve used with my patients to get phenomenal results.
If pain holds you back from living your fullest life, Heal Your Pain Now: The Revolutionary Program to Reset Your Brain and Body for a Pain-Free Life provides the tools you need to become lean, healthy, and pain-free.
Tried every nutrition approach but still struggle with chronic pain?
Take the pain quiz and discover the unknown cause of pain that no one is talking about.
Dr. Joe Tatta is a doctor of physical therapy, board certified nutrition specialist and functional medicine practitioner who specializes in treating persistent pain and lifestyle-related musculoskeletal, metabolic and autoimmune health issues. His mission is to create a new paradigm around treating persistent pain and reverse our global pain epidemic. Dr. Tatta is the author of the soon to be released book Heal Your Pain Now; A Revolutionary Program to Reset Your Brain and Body for a Pain-Free Life by Da Capo Press. He is currently in private practice in New York City, New York and also provides Online Health Consulting to help people achieve their optimal level of vitality and freedom from chronic disease. Learn more by visiting www.drjoetatta.com.
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- Fasano, A. (2012). Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1258(1), 25–33. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06538.x
- Castrillon, E. E., Cairns, B. E., Ernberg, M., Wang, K., Sessle, B., Arendt-Nielsen, L., & Svensson, P. (2008). Glutamate-evoked jaw muscle pain as a model of persistent myofascial TMD pain? Archives of Oral Biology, 53(7), 666–676. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.archoralbio.2008.01.008
- Hoffman, R., & Gerber, M. (2015). Food Processing and the Mediterranean Diet. Nutrients, 7(9), 7925–7964. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu7095371
- De Gregori, M., Muscoli, C., Schatman, M. E., Stallone, T., Intelligente, F., Rondanelli, M., … Allegri, M. (2016). Combining pain therapy with lifestyle: the role of personalized nutrition and nutritional supplements according to the SIMPAR Feed Your Destiny approach. Journal of Pain Research, 9, 1179–1189. http://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S115068
Note: Originally published in November 2015, this article has been revised and updated for accuracy and thoroughness.