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Help! My Hand Is Numb and I Can’t Use It

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The patient: Marty, an internationally sought-after antique furniture restoration expert.

Why he came to see me: Troubled by a progressive loss of sensation and function in his right hand, Marty had been to some of the Northeast’s best and brightest orthopedists and neurologists, and been thoroughly scanned and tested with nerve conduction studies. The specialists all agreed that his problem was “real” and not imagined. Although the conduction studies did confirm the diminished nerve function, the scans of his upper back and arms revealed no obvious cause of the numbness in his hand.

How I evaluated him: At his initial appointment, we reviewed the scan and conduction study interpretations and additional blood work that he came in with. Then we discussed the origin of the problem—what he had been doing at the time and any unusual activities or other concomitants that could be telling. Marty mentioned that he had been working on an unusually large and challenging piece that required him to stretch and twist repeatedly at odd angles leaning over at the waist. I discussed with him that his problem may have been caused by this repeated motion producing a nerve compression in an area under the shoulder blades. This condition, called “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome,” is often related to one or more of the ribs in the upper back becoming “subluxed” (moving slightly out of position) and causing compression of one or more nerve roots. This misalignment is usually subtle enough to not be found on MRI or CT scans.

How we addressed his problem: I brought him into our physiotherapy suite, palpated the upper back to confirm my suspicions and applied a potent “icy-hot” liniment to his upper back. I then placed hot pack therapy, called hydrocollation, over the area. After around 20 minutes, I added a thin coat of a special ultrasound gel infused with potent botanical tinctures and treated with high intensity ultrasound, a technique called phonophoresis. This promoted movement of the botanicals into the skin and underlying musculature. I then cleaned the area of residual gel and performed Naturopathic Manipulation to correct the misalignment of the ribs. I finished with an additional 20 minutes of hydrocollation to allow the change of position of the ribs to “settle in.”

On getting up from the table, Marty noticed a growing warm sensation in his right arm and more so in his hand. I found that his right hand was now perceptively warmer to the touch than his left. We both agreed that this was a very good initial finding and that he should return in three days for evaluation.

The patient’s progress: Three days later, Marty was jubilant and told me that the problem was 90% better. I repeated the phonophoresis and manipulative treatment and on a subsequent visit added in a session of a Japanese acupuncture technique using low-voltage electricity applied to needles to help break up any remaining scar tissue related to the duration of the problem. Marty has been resistant to any further treatment, having credited me with “curing him,” but he has agreed to restore a few pieces of furniture of mine worthy of his attention!

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