Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Recent research

Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CRS) is the subject of a recent study published in Brain, a peer reviewed journal dedicated to breakthroughs in neurology.  CTS results from a squeezed nerve in the wrist.  It slows down nerve impulses from the hands, and also damages the area of the brain that is responsible for detecting them.

The study compares three groups: the study group, a placebo group and a control group.  The study group received acupuncture near the affected site, the control group received it at a distal site and the placebo group received sham-acupuncture (in this case, where the needles do not penetrate the body).  Whilst all reported signs of pain relief, only the study group had lasting analgesic effects enduring over three months, as well as improvements to the neural network.

Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The study shows that acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can relieve mild to modest degrees of pain. While most pain conditions are subjective, pain from CTS is objective and measurable.  This is because a trapped nerve causes the pain.  Measuring the nerve transmission rate before and after acupuncture produces objective results.

On top of this they found another, unexpected, response.  In the trial group, researchers discovered that as well as reducing pain and increasing nerve transmission, acupuncture also remapped the brain in order to prevent pain in the future.

Carpal tunnel syndrome in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine, like Western medicine, identifies quite a variety of pain conditions.  Pain can be due to inflammation, a trapped nerve, slipped disc or other issues.  In Chinese medicine the diagnostic approach begins by breaking the problem down into the 8 principles: is it internal or external, excessive or deficient, hot or cold, yin or yang?  Generally speaking, Chinese Medicine defines CTS as an internal, excessive (acute), hot, yang condition.

Because pain is involved I also consider the causative factor for the pain.  Because it is an excessive condition it is likely to be a stagnation or blockage.  However, it could be of the qi, blood, heat, cold, damp or phlegm.  These all present with different sensations and types of pain.  Once the problem is diagnosed, then the best treatment strategy can be applied.

My approach

In my experience, acute CTS is generally quite straightforward to treat.  It often responds to acupuncture very well and in a short amount of time. In the above study, 16 sessions took place over 8 weeks. However, I often find that acupuncture for carpal tunnel syndrome can drastically reduce symptoms within 5 sessions once a week, as long as there are no other complications.

In my experience, when CTS presents freshly, on its own, in otherwise healthy individuals, treatment is usually straightforward and short.  If the condition is more chronic and there are other complications then I recommend a longer course of acupuncture for carpal tunnel syndrome, and additional interventions such as dietary change and exercise.

As always, if you would like to talk this through with me, please get in touch.