Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel

            Acupuncture for the treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) helps to alleviate symptoms associated with it. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects more than 8 million people each year, and is the second most common type of musculoskeletal surgery. However, acupuncture can be a great alternative option for treating the symptoms of this condition. Surgery does not have to be the only option for someone with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are effective alternatives to conventional medicine treatments, none of which have been proven overly effective for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

            Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is the most common entrapment neuropathy (nerve disorder) experienced today affecting about 3-6% of adults in the United States. Also known as median nerve compression, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition that causes tingling, numbness, or weakness in the hand. When there is pressure on the median nerve, which runs down the arm going through an alley in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel, and finally ending in the hand. The median nerve controls the movement and feeling in all the fingers except the pinky. Many times, Carpal Tunnel may be misdiagnosed as not all wrist pain or numbness in the fingers is caused by the compression of the carpal tunnel.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms:

  • Tingling in the hand/wrist and up the arm

  • Burning in the wrist

  • Weakness in the wrist

  • Numbness in the fingers

  • Shock-like feelings moving up the fingers

Early on in CTS, most people are able to just shake their hands to make the numbness go away, however, as time goes on, this may not do the trick. The median nerve can’t work as it should because of pressure around it, and this can lead to other symptoms.

Long-term Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms:

  • Reduced feeling in the fingers

  • Sluggish nerve impulses

  • Reduced strength and coordination (especially when trying to make use of the thumb)

After some time dealing with CTS, and as it gets worse, the muscles in the hand actually shrink causing reduced grip strength, additional pain, and muscle cramping. Although the exact cause is not known, there are many thoughts on where it can come from.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Causes:

  • Repetitive movements such as typing

  • Trauma

  • Pregnancy

  • Conditions such as hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, & obesity

When there are other conditions involved along with a carpal tunnel diagnosis, it may be a little easier to find a western medicine treatment. There truly are not many western medicine treatments that have been proven without a doubt to work for carpal tunnel.

Western Medicine Carpal Tunnel Treatments:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid shots – this would be for the swelling associated with CTS.

  • Lifestyle changes – for example if it is repetitive motion that is causing the CTS, you would be advised to take breaks more often or do less of that activity wherever possible.

  • Splint – a doctor may tell you to wear this to keep your wrist stable and decrease the pressure on the nerves, and additionally may wear one at night to help get rid of the numb or tingling feeling.

  • Exercises – strength and stretching such as nerve gliding exercises can help the nerve move better.

  • Surgery – this would be the last resort if the CTS had progressed far enough, and the above treatments have not worked. The surgery is called carpal tunnel release which essentially increases the size of the carpal tunnel, and alleviates pressure on the nerve.

Many people nowadays have careers that require them to be at a computer typing all day, so it makes sense that there is a good amount of U.S. citizens that have CTS or are showing signs and symptoms of developing it. Considering that the above treatments aren’t necessarily guaranteed for anything other than perhaps mild to moderate symptoms, and in the case of surgery, many patients seek out alternative proven methods of treatment such as acupuncture to treat their Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Pain

            Acupuncture for the treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, like western medicine, treats the symptoms of CTS, but additionally treats or takes into account any underlying conditions that possibly contributed to the development of CTS. During acupuncture treatment, the hair-thin needles are placed at key points on the body, not only in the wrist, but also the arm, hands, neck, upper back, and leg to treat CTS which allows energy & blood to flow freely, and unblocks pathways.

Acupuncture works for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by:

  • Disrupting pain signals on the median nerve

  • Promoting the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals (such as endorphins) to be released

  • Decreasing inflammation.

Since acupuncture is an individualized treatment, there is no way to tell how many visits it will take to address your CTS. Most licensed acupuncturists find patients with CTS to find success within 3-6 treatments, although regular treatments would be important to upkeep or deepen any results. In addition to acupuncture, licensed acupuncturists may prescribe an herbal formula or nutritional supplement, and suggest stretching exercises to meet each patient’s needs. Acupuncture can address not only symptoms of CTS, but also other conditions such as headaches, neck pain, sleeping problems, and shoulder stiffness that can often accompany CTS.

Acupuncture Research for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

            Acupuncture has been shown in many research studies to restore function of the nerves. It stimulates the nervous system releasing neurochemical messenger molecules. These biochemical changes in the body bring it back to a homeostatic state, therefore promoting emotional and physical well-being.

Compelling research in recent years focusing on acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome identified that acupuncture treatment can show improvement in patient symptoms, as well as work to re-map the brain.

Research for Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

  • 2019 study Laser Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Single-Blinded Controlled Study

    • This study was done to compare the efficiency of laser acupuncture with placebo laser acupuncture treatment in 84 patients with mild to moderate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).

    • Patients were divided into laser acupuncture and placebo laser acupuncture groups, and treated on the affected side once a day, 5 days a week for 4 weeks. Patients also completed the global symptom score at the beginning, 2, and 4 weeks later. Nerve conduction studies were done at the beginning and repeated at the end of treatment.

    • Researchers found a greater reduction in symptoms in the laser acupuncture group as opposed to the placebo.
  • 2017 study Rewiring the Primary Somatosensory Cortex in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome with Acupuncture

    • Involved 80 people with mild to moderate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and placed them into either the group with acupuncture in the wrist and ankle, acupuncture in the wrist only, or sham (fake) acupuncture near the affected wrist as a placebo.

    • Scientists used functional MRI and nerve conduction tests both before and after acupuncture procedures to measure the effect on the brain and nerves.

    • Scientists found true acupuncture to show significant physiological improvements in the pain centers of the nerves and brain, and sham did not produce these changes. Discovery of these outcomes led scientists to predict even greater pain relief three months after tests which is a long-term effect that sham didn’t provide.

The studies above show acupuncture to have evidence of significant brain remapping, which further shows that acupuncture cannot simply be explained away by the placebo effect as many have suggested. It seems that with acupuncture becoming more mainstream, there are more research studies being conducted with positive outcomes for acupuncture treating many conditions including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. While there is more research to be done, these findings are extremely compelling and positive that acupuncture works for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Acupuncture and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

            Acupuncture is an effective treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. As we said, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects about 3 to 6 percent of adults, and of that amount 400,000 to 500,000 surgeries occur due to it, which can very well be intercepted by alternative treatments like acupuncture to bring that number down. Less surgery means less complications. Acupuncture is a worthwhile and effective treatment for those hindered by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome seeking treatment to manage their symptoms as well as those looking to find a better solution to surgery.


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