Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel
Acupuncture and the Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Pain
Researchers are finding that acupuncture therapy could be a useful tool in the treatment of symptoms and causes of carpal tunnel and other chronic pain conditions. Acupuncture may be more effective in treating chronic pain conditions than we previously thought.
In a recently published study, researchers concluded that acupuncture was found to help relieve pain for people suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. The researchers said the acupuncture helped reduce symptoms by finding a way to remap the brain. They added the therapy also provided some healing effects at the source of the pain found in the patients’ wrists. Vitaly Napadow, PhD, director of the Center for Integrative Pain Neuroimaging, and is the senior author of the research paper. Napadow said his group hopes to conduct additional research on the effectiveness of acupuncture used for carpal tunnel and other chronic pain ailments. “One of the benefits of acupuncture is it’s so minimally invasive and has such a low-risk profile,” Napadow said.
What Researchers Discovered
The study included 80 people with an average age of 49. The volunteers, 65 of which were women, were divided into three different groups. One group received verum electro-acupuncture treatment at the wrist. Another group was given acupuncture therapy in an ankle on the opposite side of their body compared to the affected wrist. The third group was given “sham acupuncture” treatments as a control to test the placebo effect. All participants were given 16 treatments over the course of eight weeks. The participants were evaluated immediately following the treatments and again three months following the treatment.
Napadow said all three groups found some pain relief. However, the two groups of participants who received acupuncture also showed some physiological changes. High-tech imaging confirmed that the acupuncture had caused some mapping changes in the brain. There also appeared to be healing effects in the participants’ wrists. Finally, the group who received acupuncture treatment in their wrists demonstrated more benefits compared to the participants who received acupuncture in their ankles.
Why Acupuncture Is Effective
This was not the first study to demonstrate the effectiveness acupuncture can have on treating patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. Additional studies were conducted in 2012 and 2016 which reported that the participants experienced pain relief after receiving acupuncture treatments. Napadow said his study was different as it also measured the physical changes from the acupuncture. The signals the brain receives following acupuncture treatment may aid in remapping the brain and modify the pain signals from the wrist. Additionally, the acupuncture placed at the pain point may result in extra blood flow to that location, similar to what happens during bruising. This additional blood flow may help healing damaged nerves.
Greater Use of Acupuncture
Napadow said acupuncture is considered to be an alternative treatment. Patients may want to consider acupuncture prior to pursuing other treatment options such as drugs or invasive surgery. Acupuncture is already recommended in many guidelines for treating chronic pain conditions. One of the biggest barriers is working with insurance companies to cover the cost of alternative treatments. For people who are reluctant to try an ancient Chinese treatment, Napadow encourages patients to consider the validity and outcome of the therapy rather than its origin.
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Sunae Son, L.Ac, M.S.O.M. has spent much of her life exploring and researching western and eastern medicines, combining these practices over a decade of field and laboratory studies into mindful patient care in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.