Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is described as a numbness or pain shooting down the forearm and commonly into the middle finger. It is caused by inflammation in the “tunnel” through the wrist where the median nerve travels. This nerve provides sensation for your whole hand. When the tissue around the nerve becomes irritated, it presses on the nerve causing pain. I regularly see this complaint in clinic. It is common among people who do manual work for a living, like carpenters and chefs. Desk workers also can suffer from this due to the large amount of typing they do, combined with the angle their wrists are stuck at over the keyboard. It is what is called an RSI, Repetitive Strain Injury. From a western medicine perspective the exact cause is known, hence why its classed as a syndrome. In Acupuncture, in a large way it is caused by either lack of movement, or excessive movement, both which lead to blockages.
If the blood gets blocked then you have shooting sharp pains, if there is more swelling (called dampness), you get a numbness. Often in clinic patients present with a combination of both of these complaints.
Western Medicine Diagnosis and Treatment
Nerve conduction tests are done to confirm the diagnosis which involve testing how well the nerves conduct electricity. Around the site where the nerve is being impinged, there will be a reduction in the nerve conduction. Often though the diagnosis is made simply by the patients symptoms. Splints can be worn at night to help take pressure off the trapped nerve. In severe cases surgery is needed to clean up and remove pressure from the nerve.
Can Acupuncture Help?
Once we diagnose the cause of your symptoms from a Chinese Medicine perspective, we then select points often on both sides of the forearm, to help restore the flow of Qi and remove the obstructions that are causing the pain. This may in turn provide some pain relief for the nerve pain in the hand and wrist. I often suggest patients sleep with a splint to help immobilise the wrist during sleep so no further pressure is put on the nerve.
Though there has been some research into Acupuncture and Carpal Tunnel, it has all been classed as ‘low quality’ and therefore inconclusive. Some of the research was positive and others were not, much higher quality studies are needed to show effectiveness levels conclusively.
Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Good health is all about movement. This condition often occurs due to repetitive movement, the key is to mix it up regularly. I always show my patients special Qi Gong stretches which help mobilise the wrist joint and prevent these blockages occurring. Remember, for the deeper tissues to become inflamed, this means the muscle tissue hasn’t been able to absorb the load, so you need to listen to your body:
- If you spends all day working with your hands, do wrist loosening and forearm stretches every hour
- Do dynamic forms of exercise like yoga, pilates or martial arts, which helps keep the joints mobile
- Avoid doing repetitive tasks with your arms
- Soak your arm from the elbow down in warm water with epsom salts 2-3 times a week