Acupuncture: A Viable Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Repetitive stress injuries (RSI) are the most common job-related injuries and are responsible for the highest number of days lost. One of the most well-known types of repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) accounts for over two million visits to physicians' offices and approximately 465,000 carpal tunnel release operations each year, making it the most frequent surgery of the hand and wrist.  


Symptoms of repetitive stress injuries include tightness, stiffness, pain, tingling, numbness, coldness and loss of strength in the arm. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive stress injury that refers specifically to the inflammation of a specific ligament that puts pressure on the median nerve.

Acupuncture is extremely effective for treating repetitive stress injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, and often eliminates the need for surgery or the use of anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids. In fact, one of the most common reasons that people get acupuncture is for repetitive stress injuries. 

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is suitably named as it is literally a tunnel located in the lower arm, that encases and protects part of the median nerve. The median nerve controls sensory functions and enables the palm, plus all fingers (except the pinkie), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. Even though some repetitive motions such as typing on the computer or using the phone are not strenuous activities in and of themselves, if performed often enough, a cumulative effect builds up. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome, also known as median nerve entrapment, occurs when swelling or irritation of the tendons in the carpal tunnel results in pressure on the median nerve, causing pain in the palm side of the wrist and pain and tingling in the fingers. These symptoms often, but not always, result from inflammation due to frequent, repetitive physical movements. However, inflammation can also be a product of an injury, such as a wrist sprain, or certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. 

Symptoms usually start gradually and become worse over time, especially if the same motions are repeated on a near daily basis. Those with carpal tunnel syndrome usually experience frequent burning, tingling, or numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the index, middle and ring fingers. Pain can sometimes travel up the arm and affect the shoulder. The symptoms often first appear during the night. As symptoms worsen, people might feel pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist, radiating up the arm during the day. Decreased grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks. If not properly treated, CTS can cause irreversible nerve damage and permanent deterioration of muscle tissue.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome with Acupuncture

From an Oriental medicine perspective, a repetitive stress injury is seen as a disruption of the flow of Qi and Blood (Xue) within the area, and is associated with cold, dampness or wind penetrating the muscles and sinews. Acupuncture points, stretching exercises, herbal remedies and nutritional supplements are chosen to treat accordingly.

In addition to reducing the swelling, inflammation and pain, acupuncture addresses any headaches, neck pain, shoulder stiffness and sleeping problems that often accompany this condition. Your treatment may also take into account any underlying conditions that contribute to its development, including posture, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems, diabetes and hormonal changes of pregnancy and menopause.  

If you or someone you know suffers from a repetitive stress injury, please call to find out more about how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help you.