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Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition characterized by pain, tingling, and numbness in the fingers and hand, sometimes radiating up into the elbow.
The painful sensations of CTS are caused by compression of the median nerve in the tunnel of bones in the wrist. In many cases, the condition results from long-term repetitive motions of the hands and wrists, such as from computer use. Although repetitive motion is often a culprit, it does not explain the frequent occurrence of CTS with non-motion-related conditions, such as pregnancy.
Symptoms of CTS include recurrent numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain in one or both hands in a characteristic location defined by the median nerve, which is compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. Symptoms are usually worse at night and after prolonged use of the hands. Some people may experience clumsiness in handling objects, with a tendency to drop things, and may also have a decreased ability to feel hot and cold.
Acupuncture may be useful in the treatment of CTS. In a preliminary trial, people with CTS (some of whom had previously undergone surgery) received either acupuncture or electro-acupuncture (acupuncture with electrical stimulation). Eighty-three percent of the participants in this trial experienced complete relief that lasted through two to eight years of follow-up.1 After reviewing all available scientific literature on the topic, a consensus conference convened in 1997 by the National Institutes of Health concluded that acupuncture for CTS “may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program.”2
Manipulative procedures may have a role in treating CTS by decreasing symptoms and improving function. A type of stretching treatment called myofascial release improved the symptoms of a patient with CTS in one published case report,3 and similar treatments combined with specific wrist manipulations and self stretches were further tested in a small, preliminary trial.4 Participants in this study experienced a decrease in pain, numbness, and weakness, and their nerve function improved as well.
A small, preliminary trial assessed a chiropractic treatment program consisting of exercises, soft tissue therapy, and manipulation of the wrist, the upper extremity, the spine, and the ribs.5 The treatment resulted in improvement in grip and thumb strength, muscle function, flexibility, and overall function, as well as a decrease in pain among people with CTS. In a follow-up study six months later, most of the improvement had been maintained.6A controlled clinical trial compared traditional medical and chiropractic care for CTS.7 People with CTS received either standard medical care (ibuprofen and nighttime wrist supports) or chiropractic care (manipulation of the wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, and spine, as well as massage to the soft tissues). Ultrasound and nighttime splints were also used in the chiropractic treatments. People in both groups improved significantly and similarly in terms of pain reduction, increased function, and improved finger sensation and nerve function, but the chiropractic group reported fewer side effects.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2016.