Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Acupuncture may help.

By Jason Lomond on March 05, 2018

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is condition that causes pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling in the hand.

The condition is often thought to occur when one of the major nerves to the hand, the median nerve, is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist. Surgery, which is a common intervention for the condition, is therefore directed at relieving the site of the compression in the wrist. However, relatively new research has documented a number of interesting changes in the brain as a result of this condition that may tell us more about what is actually happening, why some people perform worse than others and why acupuncture may help.

In order to understand this research I have to add a little background about the brain and body. In summary, the brain actually maintains a map of the body. As we learn new things it “rewires” to reflect this learning. For instance, if you happen to be a guitarist and use your left hand for the chords, your brain has more space for the left hand. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t only learn what we want it to. In 2014 a group of researchers studying people with CTS showed that the amount of separation of the second and third fingers in the brain was associated with worse symptoms. More specifically, the subjects with less separation of the fingers in the “brain’s map” had more of the unpleasant sensations associated with CTS and more functional problems related to hand use.

Although this can be quite interesting from a scientific point of view, the real question is “how does this help me if I have symptoms of CTS?” A 2017 study may hold some answers.

In the 2017 study, a group of researchers studied the effects of 16 sessions of acupuncture on 80 subjects with CTS. More specifically, the scientists used electro-acupuncture or EA. EA uses a variety of frequencies of electricity attached to the needles and is generally found to be superior to the needle alone. In this particular study, the scientists found that the use of EA with needles led to significant improvements in function and a reduction in symptoms of CTS. Good news right? But even more interesting was that the researchers followed the subjects for several months after the treatment stopped. At 3 months post treatment the subjects who received the EA placed around the wrist at points related to the median nerve had sustained improvements and the subjects with the sustained improvements showed separation of the second and third fingers of the hand in the “brain’s map!”

So if you’re struggling with symptoms of CTS and you’re looking for a little relief, acupuncture may be worth a try.

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