Acupuncture and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Repetitive motion syndrome is a fancy name for a simple problem which is affecting hundred of millions of us worldwide. It is caused by the chronic overuse of tendons and muscles in the body. Many different parts of the limbs can be affected, ranging from tennis or golfer’s elbow, to trigger finger, but a condition called “carpal tunnel syndrome” has long left me mystified
The median nerve of the forearm runs through a narrow passageway called “carpal tunnel “in the middle of the wrist. Bound by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel protects a main nerve to the hand and the nine tendons that bend the fingers.
When the covering of these tendons becomes enlarged, that nerve gets compressed causing pain, numbness, and tingling in the fingers, and eventually hand weakness. The compression can be the consequence of a wrist fracture or be the result of inflammation build up from arthritis. The conventional form of treatment is the application of a wrist splint, and the prescription of anti-inflammatory drugs, or cortisone injections, which alleviate the symptoms, without resolving the problem.
Unfortunately, when the problem becomes chronic, and person’s livelihood is affected, one can easily be persuaded that wrist surgery is the only remaining option. With our hands being such complex and delicate structures, there is always the potential risk of causing permanent damage. This can be a very expensive mistake if it turns out that the original diagnosis was wrong, and the problem could easily have been treated in a different way. According to the American acupuncturist Sara Calabro “most people whose job cause, or worsen, wrist pain do not have carpal tunnel syndrome, but a repetitive strain of the arm and wrist muscles”.
In these cases, the trigger points in the strained muscle are replicating the symptoms of carpal tunnel, and they can be easily treated with a course of acupuncture.
Sometimes, the problem is caused by our poor posture. When we slouch on our computer, or while performing manual work, our shoulders curve inward causing compression of the surrounding arteries, and the brachial plexus nerve network supplying the hands.
In most of these cases, acupuncture treatments can be very successful. In our treatment approach, local points selected in the wrist and forearm are used to relieve the tension in the strained muscles in combination with distal points in the shoulders, the upper chest above the clavicle and even the back. Since the meridians run bilaterally, when the local area is too painful to needle on the affected side, we often use the opposite side. In most cases, I expect a marked improvement after three treatments and a full recovery after five visits.
Obviously, to stop the problem reoccurring, some lifestyle changes have to be made. Since stress causes the body to stiffen, short of changing jobs, there are many ways one can assist the body to perform better. Research has shown that are happier and we perform better under stressful conditions when we are fitter, so it is very important to find a form of exercise that is practical and that we can enjoy doing a couple of times a week.
In addition, I advise my patients to massage the painful areas with liniments like tiger balm, or to use an herbal stick called “moxa” to promote the blood flow and remove the stagnation around the problem area. Also, five minutes stretching routine on the wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck performed three times daily (total 15 minutes) during work breaks can have a huge impact on the muscle’s ability to recover from overwork.