“Our findings indicated that the acupuncture can improve the overall subjective symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and could be adopted in comprehensive care programs of these patients.” - Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, January 2012
“In this study, patients with CTS who were treated with wet cupping experienced a highly significant decrease in pain and other symptoms. Moreover, a single treatment improved functional ability and quality of life, and reduced associated neck pain for at least 1 week.” – The Journal of Pain, 2009
Those are the results of two separate research studies. Current treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) has mixed results. In a search for alternative methods of treatment, scientists have conducted studies that show significant changes in the symptoms of CTS with the use of acupuncture and cupping.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)?
Classic symptoms of CTS include numbness, tingling, burning, and pain in at least 2 of the 3 digits supplied by the median nerve (i.e., thumb, index finger, and middle finger). These symptoms occur when pressure is placed on a nerve protected by a narrow passageway in the wrist, the carpal tunnel. Many people refer to CTS as a repetitive use injury, i.e. repetitive use of a mouse, or typing in such a way that is not ergonomically correct. But CTS is also related to systemic factors such as metabolic and endocrine disorders, obesity, and amyloid degeneration. Acupuncture helps decrease the pain and inflammation of the repetitive use injury as well as helps to balance internal functions, such as metabolic, endocrine and hormonal imbalances.
Researchers assigned 52 patients diagnosed with CTS to one of two groups. The first group received cupping therapy, in which glass jars are placed over a section of punctured skin and air is removed to form a vacuum. The suction draws blood to the skin’s surface, which is thought to improve circulation and alleviate pain. In this case, the glasses were placed for five to 10 minutes over the shoulder muscle to affect the nerve that gets aggravated in carpal tunnel syndrome. In a second group, heating pads were placed over the same shoulder muscle for 15 minutes at a time. The cupping therapy group did significantly better after seven days. For the cupping group, the mean pain score at rest decreased by 59%, and the mean symptoms score decreased by 60%. The heat therapy group had only a 23% decrease in pain.
The acupuncture research also had two control groups. One control group consisted of night splinting, vitamin B1, B6 and sham acupuncture for four weeks. The other group underwent acupuncture in 8 sessions over 4 weeks and night splinting.
Sixty-four of 72 patients that were included in the study actually completed the 4-week intervention and were evaluated for the outcome. There was a statistically significant difference between two arms of treatment after the intervention. Using repeated measure, the acupuncture group was significantly different after 4 weeks. Among electrophysiological parameters, nerve conduction velocity (NCV) was significantly different between the two groups after 4 weeks. The conclusion of the study was that acupuncture can improve the overall subjective symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and could be adopted in comprehensive care programs of these patients.
Personal Experience Treating CTS
My personal experience treating CTS has been successful. Patients report less pain or elimination of pain and an increased ability to perform regular functions without pain. Numbness and tingling decreases or goes away. Even hands that are swollen or mildly misshapen due to contraction of the tendons significantly change. Also, patients report less neck tension and back pain, since we are treating the neck, shoulders and back too. The best results have been with the use of acupuncture, cupping and Chinese herbal formulas. We also discuss nutrition and other lifestyle changes that may enhance the body’s natural healing abilities.
Amy LeSage, L.Ac., Dipl. O.M.
Licensed Acupuncturist, Diplomate, Oriental Medicine