Acupuncture & carpal tunnel syndrome

Perhaps one of the most valuable applications of acupuncture in the Western world has been in the treatment of chronic diseases. The management of chronic conditions is a complex matter that draws on many different discipline to respond to a person’s unique physiology and condition, and acupuncture provides another tool in the arsenal used to manage such conditions. While not a replacement for more standard avenues of medical care, acupuncture has proven to be an effective complement to existing treatment techniques, despite the many questions that surround the practice and its effectiveness.

In this article we will look at carpal tunnel syndrome and how acupuncture can be used to manage the condition. If left untreated, this condition can cause lasting damage to the nerves and muscles of a sufferer’s hand.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is very much a disease of the modern age as its most common cause is typing. CTS as it is also known is a result of a particular mechanism of stress on a major nerve (the median nerve) in the hand that has yet to be understood, however we do know that typing at speed over long periods of time is enough to trigger this mechanism and cause carpal tunnel. CTS is also associated with other conditions that can cause pressure to this nerve like arthritis, obesity, injury, and diabetes.

CTS is one of the most prevalent work related injuries in many parts of the world, and is reported by some sources to be the condition responsible for the highest number of working days lost as a consequence of injury.

CTS is caused by pressure on the aforementioned median nerve, which runs through a structure called the carpal tunnel and from which the disease derives its name. CTS most often presents with a characteristic numbness that comes and goes most often in the thumb and fingers, as well as a sharp pain that shoots down the length of the forearm. If left untreated CTS can cause permanent damage to the median nerve and other nerves of the hand and a gradual weakening of muscles in the hand that weaken the thumb .

The only known cure to CTS is surgery, however there are alternative, less invasive therapies that can effectively manage the condition, particularly in its early stages, and in some cases offset the need for surgical intervention.

Immobilising the affected hand with wrist splints is an effective method for mild cases of CTS as this measure can relieve some of the stress on the median nerve. A certain class of drugs known as NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) are also effective during the early stages of the disease, and if neither of these measures can prevent the progress of CTS then more aggressive options are considered.

For moderate conditions, corticosteroid injections is a slightly more aggressive method of relieving pressure on the median nerve. If CTS continues to worsen, the only viable solution is a surgical treatment called carpal tunnel release surgery. This procedure involves cutting a ligament running across the hand called the transverse carpal ligament, which relieves the pressure on the median nerve.

For people with milder CTS who aren’t facing much success through the standard treatment pathway, acupuncture offers an alternative that can deal with the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Can acupuncture help treat carpal tunnel syndrome?

While there isn’t any conclusive scientific evidence to support acupuncture as an effective method of managing CTS, many people who are struggling with the pain and numbness brought on by the disease claim to benefit from this complementary therapy. Every person’s physiology is unique to them, and there are people who won’t benefit from standard steroid treatments and braces. In these cases, acupuncture may offer a viable alternative.

That being said, it should be pointed out that you should always speak to your doctor about your CTS and follow through with treatments that have proven effective. Acupuncture should be considered as a treatment to complement existing therapies as opposed to one that replaces more conventional, standard treatments.

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