Pressure on the nerves in the wrist can cause carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). There are non-surgical treatments such as painkillers but also alternatives such as acupuncture to improve nerve function.
Carpal tunnel is a narrow passage in the wrists, on the palm side of the wrist. the hand, which allows the median nerve to pass through the hand. SCC occurs when pressure is put on the median nerve, causing symptoms such as tingling, numbness, and weakness in that area. Acupuncture can help reduce pain and other symptoms in some cases. Each case is unique and a treatment is to be adapted to each person but it can include, in general, acupuncture, traditional medical treatments, physical therapy. This article explores CTS and conventional treatments for this condition, the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating CTS.
Overview of carpal tunnel syndrome and treatments
CTS is a type of neuropathy or nerve damage called entrapment. This condition affects the median nerve by trapping or compressing it in the carpal tunnel. CSC accounts for 11% of all neuropathies. Doctors may recommend forms of physical therapy to help relieve symptoms. They may also suggest other nonsurgical treatments such as wrist splints or medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids. In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery to treat CTS. The operation aims to reduce pressure on the median nerve. By making an incision in the wrist and cutting the transverse carpal ligament, the carpal tunnel is widened. It is possible to explore other treatment methods in some cases, such as ultrasound, stimulation therapy or acupuncture.
How effective is acupuncture for carpal tunnel syndrome?
Acupuncture may be an effective alternative to medical treatment in some cases of mild to moderate CTS. A study by 2018 found that people with CTS who took acupuncture treatment for 4 weeks saw an improvement in symptoms such as pain, numbness and tingling, and muscle weakness.
These improvements continued 3 months after treatment. These results may indicate that acupuncture treatment can provide long-lasting symptom relief. The researchers concluded that acupuncture is a safe and appropriate method to treat CTS. A systematic review by 2021 also notes that acupuncture may help relieve mild to moderate symptoms of CTS.
It is possible to use acupuncture as a therapy in pain management with a low risk of adverse effects. This can be important for people who don’t respond well to medical treatments. Preclinical research has shown that acupuncture can also induce an anti-inflammatory response. Research by 11 found that acupuncture helped reduce symptoms of CTS and showed that the body’s response to acupuncture may alter signaling pathways in the brain.
MRI scans taken before and after a person with CTS received acupuncture therapy showed that the process may improve nerve function in the area concerned. This happens by adjusting the way the brain responds to pain or by altering pathways in the brain to reduce pain. The body can also react to needles penetrating the skin by sending extra blood to the affected area, which can help reduce inflammation and heal damaged tissue.
Other methods that mimic the process of acupuncture may also be helpful. A study by 2018 explored the effectiveness of laser acupuncture for treating CTS. Laser acupuncture applies laser light to acupuncture points. Research has found this therapy to have short-term effects in relieving mild to moderate symptoms of CTS without inserting needles into the skin. This study exploring laser acupuncture was small, but the process may be an alternative if a person does not wish to try acupuncture therapy or the use of needles. It is important to note that some people may not respond well to acupuncture, or their symptoms may not improve with treatment.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is one of the many practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which evolved thousands of years ago. TCM practitioners use various psychological or physical approaches, such as acupuncture and tai chi. Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting fine pins or needles through the skin. These needles target specific areas called acupuncture points. Acupuncture practitioners, called acupuncturists, perform this technique.
The person is sitting or lying down in a relaxed position during the procedure. It may be necessary to remove anything covering the wrists or arms, such as sleeved shirts or jewelry. A practitioner inserts the pins into the acupuncture points corresponding to the affected hand and wrist. According to research, the point known as heart 7 is the most common one that has been reported for the treatment of CTS, along with heart 6, the large intestine 11, and other points around or corresponding to the area.
These points are located on the medial surface or the interior of the fore- arm. The practitioner often inserts needles into both arms. The needles can remain in the acupuncture points for some time, and the practitioner can make minor adjustments by moving or lifting the needles. A person may feel pressure as the practitioner makes the adjustments. Some people may not feel anything when the practitioner inserts the needles, while others may feel slight pressure or pain. The practitioner may ask the person to stay relaxed or explain a soothing breathing process before and during the treatment.
At the end of the session, the practitioner removes each needle individually, proceeding with precaution. Then he cleans the area and gives the person instructions on aftercare or activities. The practitioner disposes of the needles in a medical sharps container and never reuses them.
Can acupuncture cure CTS?
Acupuncture cannot cure carpal tunnel syndrome. Acupuncture may be an alternative treatment method for some people, helping them find lasting relief from symptoms. Studies suggest that acupuncture stimulates the release of natural substances such as endorphins, which relieve pain. Acupuncture may be a useful alternative therapy for mild to moderate cases of CTS. It can provide long-lasting symptom relief, even after completing acupuncture sessions. Acupuncture can be a helpful part of a varied treatment plan that includes other methods such as physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication.
Bahrami-Taghanaki, H., et al. (2020). Acupuncture for carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial studying changes in clinical symptoms and electrodiagnostic tests.
Bian, Z., et al. (2021). Acupuncture and related therapies for carpal tunnel syndrome: A protocol for systematic review and Bayesian network meta-analysis.
Carpal tunnel syndrome fact sheet. (2021).
Choi, G.-H., et al. (2018). Acupuncture and related interventions for the treatment of symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Huh, JH, et al. (2021). Effect of manual acupuncture for mild-to-moderate carpal tunnel syndrome: A systematic review.
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