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Carpel Tunnel and Acupuncture – Is it Effective?

September 15, 2010

By Neeki Smith, L.Ac, The Center: Natural Health Specialists

Acupuncture and oriental medicine are very effective for carpel tunnel syndrome.  I have helped many patients with this painful disorder and have kept several clients out of surgery.

First and foremost, even if you have been diagnosed with carpel tunnel, I would re-evaluate you to see if you really have carpel tunnel or Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).  TOS and carpel tunnel have similar signs and symptoms; numb, tingling or burning hands, and pain in the wrists and/or hands.

In TOS the veins, nerves, and arteries are pinched in the shoulder area, usually between the first rib and the collar bone, due to tight muscles.

In carpel tunnel, the veins, nerves, and arteries are pinched in the wrist area, usually due to inflammation from over-use.  The wrist is kept stable and in place by a connective tissue called the retinaculum, which acts like a wide band around the wrist.  The retinaculum does not stretch and when the tissue becomes inflamed, there is nowhere for the swollen tissue to go except inwards – pinching the nerves, veins and arteries and causing pain, tingling, numbness, or burning in the local area.

In TOS, the same symptoms occur in the wrist, even though the pinching is occurring in the shoulder area, making carpel tunnel and TOS difficult to tell apart.

Treatment consists of a series of acupuncture treatments, Tui Na (a form of therapeutic massage), a topical anti-inflammatory, stretches, and sometimes Chinese herbs and other supplements, depending on your case.  The doctor recommended brace works well, although some people complain about not being able to sleep with the brace on.  Of course, reducing the use of your hands and wrists will help too, but that is not possible for most people.

Doing ALL of the recommended treatments AT THE SAME TIME is vitally important.  You can’t try the brace or stretches alone and say it didn’t work – it is a comprehensive treatment program that takes a number of weeks, and sometimes months in severe cases.

Results of treatment vary depending on the severity of your case and your compliance to treatment recommendations.  Most clients have a significant reduction in symptoms within the first 3-4 treatments, usually enough to keep them out of surgery.

Some people get 80% better, and then stop treatment because the symptoms become tolerable.  Stopping treatment early is not advisable, as the symptoms tend to recur or linger if treatment is not complete, compounding the problem and making complete recovery much more difficult.

Acupuncture and oriental medicine are a viable alternative to drugs and surgery for carpel tunnel syndrome and TOS.

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