Is there any benefit to taking acupuncture treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome? I'd really like to avoid surgery or drugs if I can.
A recent study from Taiwan of 18- to 55-year-old patients with confirmed mild-to-moderate carpal tunnel syndrome says Yes to your question. They compared two groups of similar patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. One group was treated with oral steroids for a period of four weeks. The other group was given a series of acupuncture sessions twice a week for four weeks.
Measures used to compare the results of treatment included before and after ratings of symptoms. The main symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are wrist and hand pain, finger and hand numbness, tingling, weakness/clumsiness, and nighttime pain. Each one of these symptoms was rated from zero (not present) to 10 (very severe symptom).
When combined together, these ratings form the global symptom score (GSS). The before and after treatment GSS was also analyzed and compared between the two groups. Nerve conduction tests were repeated at the end of four weeks. These tests show how well the median nerve is firing to send motor messages to the muscles controlled by the median nerve.
The results showed that acupuncture is as effective and safe as oral steroids for short-term relief of mild-to-moderate carpal tunnel syndrome. That's good news for anyone looking to avoid adverse side effects of either steroids and/or surgery.
The global symptom score (GSS) improved for all patients in both groups. The biggest difference was in night pain awakening the patient. The acupuncture group had much better improvement in this symptom compared with the steroid group. Motor function seemed to improve faster in the acupuncture group as well.
The authors conclude that acupuncture treatment for confirmed mild-to-moderate carpal tunnel syndrome is safe and effective with few side effects. Compared with oral steroids, acupuncture had slightly better results.
Chun-Pai Yang, MD, et al. Acupuncture in Patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. In The Clinical Journal of Pain. May 2009. Vol. 25. No. 4. Pp. 327-333.
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