Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is one of the most common job-related injuries. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the reason for over two million visits to physicians’ offices and approximately 465,000 carpal tunnel release surgeries each year, making it the most frequent hand and wrist surgery.

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist made up of ligaments and bones. The median nerve and the tendons that connect the fingers to the muscles of the forearm pass through the tight carpal tunnel space.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, also known as median nerve entrapment, occurs when swelling (edema) or irritation of the nerve or tendons in the carpal tunnel resulting in pressure on the median nerve.  The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers, as well to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move.

Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the thumb, index and middle fingers. 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.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be triggered by repetitive activities at work or at home. The technological revolution has brought computers and smart phones into almost every office and household which is resulting in a significant increase of hand, arm, and shoulder injuries that result from repetitive typing, computer mouse usage, and texting.

Conventional treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is anti-inflammatory drugs and wrist splints may be prescribed to manage the symptoms, and in certain cases a corticosteroid injection into the local area. In the advanced stage, surgery might be recommended to release the pressure in the carpal tunnel to avoid permanent nerve damage.

However, there are other alternatives. Studies have found that acupuncture reduces the edema and other scientific experiments have suggested that acupuncture can stimulate the production of cortisol, a hormone that reduces pain and inflammation. Since the median nerve impingement is often caused by soft tissue swelling and inflammation in the carpal tunnel, acupuncture is certainly a treatment option to consider, especially for those in the early stages of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Acupuncture is also helpful for the relief of neck pain, shoulder stiffness, eye strain, and headache, which are symptoms commonly seen in people with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome due to incorrect posture and incorrect ergonomics.

Acupuncture: A Comprehensive Text. By Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1981
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: Volume 105(5) April 2000 pp 1662-1665

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