If you’re one of the 3% of Americans that suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, then you may be looking for alternative treatments to surgery.
While there are many different approaches to help with the symptoms and underlying causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, you may also be wondering: is acupuncture is something to consider?
Does it work?
We’ve got the answer. But before we share it, let’s take a look at what carpal tunnel is. Then we’ll share some research on what acupuncture can do for carpal tunnel syndrome, and we’ll take a look at how many sessions you may need, the cost involved, and even some of the acupuncture points involved in treatment.
What is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a type of peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral meaning at the extremities of your body, like your wrists, and neuropathy, meaning related to your nerves.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
Causes of carpal tunnel may include:
- Repetitive wrist movements
- Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis that place pressure on your median nerve
- Conditions that cause nerve damage such as diabetes
Does Acupuncture Work?
The question everyone wants to know the answer to is: does acupuncture work for carpal tunnel?
This study for mild to moderate CTS demonstrated that patients undergoing acupuncture showed significantly better improvement for five main areas: pain, numbness, tingling, weakness/clumsiness, and nocturnal awakening.
And this long-term study “demonstrates that short-term acupuncture treatment may result in long-term improvement in mild-to-moderate idiopathic CTS.”
So you may be wondering, what about severe carpal tunnel syndrome? In those cases, carpal tunnel may not be best served using complementary and alternative medicine. The lesson? Catch carpal tunnel early and treat it with CAM as a conservative alternative to surgery. Of course, consult with your physician and other healthcare providers concerning your particular situation and your best treatment options.
Acupuncture was found to be more effective in reducing pain in this study, and just as effective as night splinting for mild to moderate CTS. So you may want to discuss acupuncture as an option for carpal tunnel pain during pregnancy.
How Many Sessions?
In a study for mild to moderate carpal tunnel, participants who experienced improvements underwent eight sessions of acupuncture over four weeks. That’s twice a week for four weeks.
In another study we referenced, subjects underwent ten treatments.
We recommend talking with your acupuncturist about the number of treatments recommended. Michael Greenwood, MD, recommends twice weekly and decreasing in frequency until symptoms improve with a minimum of six treatments.
If you follow Michael Greenwood’s recommendations for a minimum of six treatments, ranging from $35-$150 per session, you may expect to pay in the range of $210 to $900 for initial treatment. Of course, the cost of acupuncture varies by location and by practitioner.
Frequently asked questions
Does acupuncture work for Carpal Tunnel?
Yes, there is research to support that acupuncture is effective for mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome.
Does Medicare cover Carpal Tunnel?
No, Medicare doesn’t cover acupuncture for carpal tunnel. The only condition Medicare will cover acupuncture for is chronic low back pain.
How often should I get acupuncture for carpal tunnel?
Michael Greenwood, MD, recommends twice weekly and decreasing in frequency until symptoms improve with a minimum of six treatments. Since this is general advice, it is advisable to discuss the frequency of your acupuncture treatments for carpal tunnel with a professional acupuncturist in your area.
Acupuncture Points for Carpal Tunnel
According to Michael Greenwood, MD, in his article: How Do You Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Your Practice published in Medical Acupuncture, local points that are helpful for carpal tunnel include:
- PC 6, 7, 8
- HT 7,8
- LU 8, 9, 10
He suggests that additional trigger points in the forearm flexors and pectorals may also require work. Other general points may include:
- SP 9
- ST 40
- SP 10
- Bl 17
- BL 13
- LI 4
- LV 3
According to Schulman et al, non-surgical options for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Steroid injections
- Carpal bone mobilization
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
In addition, there are many complementary and alternative therapies in addition to acupuncture that may help with carpal tunnel, including:
- Massage Therapy
Before getting started with acupuncture for carpal tunnel, be sure to talk with your physician or medical professional about getting a proper medical diagnosis and what treatment recommendations are appropriate for your condition.
Work with a professional acupuncturist in your area to determine how acupuncture may best help you and the frequency of treatment that’s right for you.
Greenwood, Michael. (2010). How Do You Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Your Practice? Medical Acupuncture, 22(3), 161-166. https://doi:10.1089/acu.2010.2019
Khosrawi, S., Moghtaderi, A., & Haghighat, S. (2012). Acupuncture in treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial study. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 17(1), 1–7.
Kumnerddee W., Kaewtong A. Efficacy of acupuncture versus night splinting for carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. 2010;93(12):1463–1469.
Schulman, R. A., & Liem, B. (2008). Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome with medical acupuncture. Medical Acupuncture, 20(3), 163+.
U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Acupuncture. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/acupuncture
Yang, C. P., Wang, N. H., Li, T. C., Hsieh, C. L., Chang, H. H., Hwang, K. L., Ko, W. S., & Chang, M. H. (2011). A randomized clinical trial of acupuncture versus oral steroids for carpal tunnel syndrome: a long-term follow-up. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society, 12(2), 272–279. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2010.09.001