Pressure on the nerves in the wrist may cause carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) to occur. Doctors may recommend nonsurgical treatments such pain relievers or alternatives such as acupuncture to improve nerve function.

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage in the wrists on the palm side of the hand, which allows the median nerve to pass into the hand. CTS occurs when there is pressure on the median nerve, causing symptoms such as tingling, numbness, and weakness in the area.

Acupuncture may help reduce pain and other symptoms in some cases. Doctors may recommend a unique treatment regimen for each person, including acupuncture, standard medical treatments, physical therapy, or home remedies.

This article explores CTS and conventional treatments for the condition, the efficacy of acupuncture in treating CTS, and how doctors use this method.

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CTS is a type of neuropathy or nerve damage called entrapment. This condition affects the median nerve by trapping or compressing it in the carpal tunnel. CTS accounts for 90% of all neuropathies.

Doctors may recommend forms of physical therapy to help ease symptoms. They may also suggest other nonsurgical treatments such as wrist splints or medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids.

In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery to treat CTS. The surgery aims to reduce pressure on the median nerve. Making an incision in the wrist and cutting the transverse carpal ligament enlarges the carpal tunnel.

Doctors may explore other treatment methods in some cases, such as ultrasound, stimulation therapy, or acupuncture.

Acupuncture can be an effective alternative to medical treatments for some cases of mild-to-moderate CTS.

Research from 2020 found that people with CTS who had acupuncture treatment for 4 weeks noticed improvements in symptoms such as pain, numbness and tingling, and muscular weakness.

These improvements continued 3 months after the treatment. These results may indicate that acupuncture therapy can provide lasting relief from symptoms. Researchers concluded that acupuncture is a safe and suitable method for treating CTS.

A 2021 systematic review similarly notes that acupuncture can help with mild-to-moderate symptoms of CTS.

Doctors can use acupuncture as therapy in pain management with little risk of adverse effects. This may be important for people who do not react well to medical treatments. Preclinical research has shown acupuncture may also cause an anti-inflammatory response.

Research from 2017 found that acupuncture helped reduce symptoms of CTS and showed that the body’s response to acupuncture might change signaling pathways in the brain.

MRI scans from before and after a person with CTS received acupuncture therapy showed that the process might improve the nerve function in the area. This occurs by adjusting how the brain responds to pain or changing the pathways in the brain to reduce pain.

The body may also react to the needles going into the skin by sending extra blood to the area, which may help reduce inflammation and heal damaged tissues.

Other methods

Other methods that mimic the process of acupuncture may also be helpful.

A study from 2019 explored the efficacy of laser acupuncture to treat CTS. Laser acupuncture applies laser light to acupuncture points. The research found that this therapy had short-term effects in relieving mild-to-moderate CTS symptoms without inserting needles into the skin.

This study exploring laser acupuncture was small, but the process may be an alternative if a person does not wish to try acupuncture therapy or the use of needles.

It is important to note that some people may not respond well to acupuncture, or their symptoms may not improve with treatment.

A person should work closely with a doctor to determine the most effective treatment for their CTS symptoms.

Acupuncture is one of several traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practices, which evolved thousands of years ago. TCM practitioners use various psychological or physical approaches, such as acupuncture and tai chi.

Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting thin pins or needles through the skin. These needles target specific areas called acupuncture points.

Acupuncture practitioners, sometimes called acupuncturists, perform this technique. People can consult the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture to find a qualified, board certified acupuncturist.

The procedure

A person will sit or lie in a relaxed position during the procedure. They may need to remove any items covering the wrists or arms, such as sleeved shirts or jewelry.

A practitioner will insert the pins into the acupuncture points corresponding to the affected hand and wrist, approximately 0.25 to 0.5 inches deep. According to research, the point known as pericardium 7 is the most common one reported for CTS treatment, along with pericardium 6, large intestine 11, and other points around or corresponding to the area.

These points are located on the medial surface or inside of the forearms. A practitioner will often insert needles in both arms.

The needles may sit in the acupuncture points for some time, and the practitioner may make minor adjustments by moving or lifting the needles. A person may feel pressure while the practitioner adjusts them.

Some people may not feel when the practitioner inserts the needles, whereas others may feel slight pressure or pain. The practitioner may direct the person to remain relaxed or explain a calming breathing process before and during the treatment.

At the end of the session, the practitioner will remove each needle individually, moving with care. Afterward, they will clean the area and give the person instructions about aftercare or activity.

The practitioner will dispose of needles in a medical sharps container and never reuse them.

Read more on what to expect during acupuncture therapy.

Acupuncture cannot cure carpal tunnel syndrome. Acupuncture may be an alternative treatment method for some people, helping them find lasting relief from symptoms.

Studies suggest that acupuncture stimulates the release of natural substances such as pain-relieving endorphins.

Doctors may recommend acupuncture and other medical treatments to help treat CTS. Working closely with a doctor to find the ideal treatment regimen in each case may help the person relieve their symptoms.

Acupuncture may be a helpful alternative therapy for mild-to-moderate cases of CTS. Research indicates that acupuncture may provide lasting relief from symptoms, even after completing acupuncture sessions.

Acupuncture may be a helpful part of a varied treatment plan that includes other methods such as physical therapy and medications for inflammation.

Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles to stimulate tissues at key points of an area causing pain. It may be helpful for some people with CTS and appears to reduce symptoms for some time after treatment.

Treatment will affect everyone differently, and some people may not respond to acupuncture for CTS or choose other treatment options.

A person should consult a doctor to find a varied treatment approach that helps alleviate symptoms.