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Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

by Grace Ganel, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., C.Z.B.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is very common in the US. CTS symptoms may include tingling and numbness in the hand or arm. People with CTS also commonly have weakness in the affected hand. Pressure on the median nerve in the wrist causes the symptoms of CTS (1). Research supports the use of acupuncture for carpal tunnel syndrome symptom relief (2, 3).

How does “Western” (allopathic) medicine treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Allopathic doctors treat CTS by recommending certain lifestyle changes and medications. People may have relief by reducing activities that put strain on the wrist. It can also help to use items in your daily life to reduce pressure on the wrists, such as gel supports for your keyboard and mouse. Additionally, your doctor might tell you to wear a wrist splint around-the-clock for several weeks. It’s important to follow the treatment plan set forth by your practitioner. Do not wear a splint without consulting a doctor, occupational therapist, or physical therapist. Doctors might prescribe oral steroid medications, or a steroid may be injected into the wrist. Surgery may be used in severe cases.

Does research support the use of acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Evidence supports using acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. One study compared patients who received a course of acupuncture with patients who received oral medication. The results suggested greater long-term improvements for the acupuncture group (2). This study contained only 77 participants, and next steps in this research should include a larger sample size.

Another study showed similar improvements in symptoms among groups receiving acupuncture or “placebo” acupuncture (effectively acupressure) in conjunction with wrist splinting (3). This study would need to include more control groups that only received the wrist splinting and no intervention. This would make it so the researchers could determine whether the improvements were likely due to splinting alone or due to the features of acupuncture treatment which were present in both the “placebo” group and the treatment group.

How does acupuncture treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Several acupuncture channels flow through the wrist and fingers. The fingers most commonly involved by CTS, are the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The channels in these digits are the Lung, Large Intestine, and Pericardium channels, respectively. The Pericardium channel travels directly along the pathway of the median nerve. Therefore, your acupuncturist may use acupuncture and/or moxibustion on the Pericardium channel pathway to treat CTS.

One of the beautiful things about acupuncture is that we do not always need to treat the affected area directly. A common way to treat an affected channel is to treat its “division pair” in a different region of the body. In this case, one might be able to treat CTS using points in the legs and feet. Additionally, acupuncturists commonly treat neurological conditions such as CTS using points on the scalp or back. This is because of the relationship between the central nervous system (the brain and the spine) and the peripheral nervous system (the nerves in your wrists, for example). Your acupuncturist will complete a thorough diagnostic exam to determine how best to address your CTS symptoms.

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