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How TCM Can Alleviate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

What is Carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common hand conditions in the general population, with an estimated lifetime risk of 10% and an annual incidence rate of 0.1% among adults (Franzblau & Werner, 1999). Additionally, over 200,000 carpal tunnel surgical procedures are performed yearly in the U.S. (Franzblau & Werner). The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel about 1 inch long between the hand and the wrist (Walter, 2022). The syndrome can occur in one or both hands and is often produced more at night. If carpal tunnel syndrome is left untreated, some may develop permanent numbness in the areas of the affected hand(s) and muscle atrophy in the thumb muscle with permanent weakness.

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

There are many common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, including the gradual onset of tingling, numbness, or weakness in the thumb and the index, middle, and half of the ring finger (Walter, 2022). Additionally, this tingling and numbness sensation may travel from the wrist up the arm. Symptoms can occur, for example, when holding a phone or may wake you up from sleep (MayoClinic, 2022). Many try to “shake out” their hands to relieve their symptoms, but the numb feeling may persist over time.

How does carpal tunnel syndrome happen?

The median nerve provides sensation to the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. The median nerve is also responsible for the movement of the wrist and all of the fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed in the narrow space between the hand and the wrist (the carpal tunnel), which leads to thumb weakness, numbness, and tingling in the distribution area of the nerve (Walter, 2022). It is also caused by repeated exercise or overuse of the hand(s) and wrist(s) (Tsai et al., 2019). 

What are the causes of its in Oriental Medicine?

In Oriental Medicine, carpal tunnel syndrome is thought to be due to the stagnation of Blood and Qi in the wrist from the invasion of Wind, Cold, or Dampness often superimposed on a deficiency of Spleen Qi (Schulman et al., 2010).

What can Oriental Medicine do to treat carpal tunnel syndrome?


         Acupuncture is a type of treatment used for patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. Evidence has shown that acupuncture is a more effective treatment option for carpal tunnel syndrome than primary care or anti-inflammatory medications (HealthCMi, 2018). Acupuncture aids in alleviating pain, numbness, and inflammation and restoring motor dexterity. Acupuncture can also help those with CTS symptoms by assisting with pain management (Bian et al., 2021). 

        Acupressure effectively reduces the severity of the symptoms and improves electrodiagnostic findings and hand function (Asgari et al., 2020). In addition, acupressure at specific points in the body can relieve energy imbalance through the stimulation or release of energy. Acupressure can also aid in and be an effective self-treatment for patients with carpal tunnel syndrome as it releases muscle tension, relaxes the mind and body, and promotes blood circulation (Kaiser Permanente, 2023). 

        Traditional Chinese herbal remedies have been shown to significantly reduce the weakness of the hand(s) and tingling pain in fingers among those with carpal tunnel syndrome (Tan & Cai, 2023). Using traditional Chinese herbs to treat carpal tunnel syndrome also may help reduce pain and repair the nerves and damaged tissue. One TCM herb formula used for carpal tunnel syndrome is Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang. This herbal formula may help treat carpal tunnel syndrome by relieving pain, unblocking painful obstructions and meridians, and dispelling blood stagnation (Me & Qi, 2023).

        With moxibustion, applying moxa heat to the treatment area for carpal tunnel syndrome helps dilate blood vessels, promote blood flow, and relax the muscle (Davis, 2022). In a study by Chan et al. (2018) focusing on the ulnar nerve, moxibustion decreased the stimulus intensity of the ulnar nerve. This finding, in turn, relieves carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms where the nerve is essentially compressed at the wrist.

        Cupping can also help those with carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms by significantly relieving symptom severity and the distal sensory disturbance of the median nerve (Mohammadi, 2019). For example, a study by Michalsen et al. (2008) discovered that patients with carpal tunnel syndrome treated with wet cupping experienced a significant decrease in pain and other symptoms (Michalsen et al., 2009). 

          One lifestyle recommendation for those with carpal tunnel syndrome is to monitor diet, exercise, and supplements to minimize or eliminate the associated risk factors and improve the patient’s overall condition (Lin, 2007). Another lifestyle recommendation is to “avoid or limit repeating the same motions over and over with the wrists and hands, when possible” (Cornell, 2022).

          At Rapha Acupuncture in Newport Beach, we are a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinic specializing in women’s and men's health and can help you design the best treatment plan for CTS! Using acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbs customized to your symptoms, Rapha Acupuncture provides a natural and holistic solution. Give us a call today!

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Asgari, M. R., Mosaviinejad, S. S., Ebrahimian, A., Aminianfar, A., Ghorbani, R., & Babamohamadi, H. (2020). The effects of acupressure on the symptoms severity and function status and electrodiagnostic findings in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 51, 102420.

Bian, Z., Yu, J., Tu, M., Liao, B., Huang, J., Jiang, Y., & Fang, J. (2021). Acupuncture and related therapies for carpal tunnel syndrome: A protocol for systematic review and Bayesian network meta-analysis. Medicine, 100(50), e28294. 

Chan, S., Ferreira, S., Ramos, B., Santos, M. J., Matos, L. C., & Machado, J. (2018). Assessment of acupuncture and moxibustion effects on the electrophysiological properties of the ulnar nerve: A nerve conduction study. Integrative Medicine International, 4, 198-207.

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Kaiser Permanente - Permanente Medicine. (2023). Acupressure for wrist pain. 

Lin, D. C. (2007). Nutritional and lifestyle interventions for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. The FASEB Journal, 21(5), A695-A695. 

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, February 25). Carpal tunnel syndrome. Mayo Clinic. 

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Michalsen, A., Bock, S., Ludtke, R., Rampp, T., Baecker, M., Bachmann, J., Langhorst, J., Musial, F., & Dobos, G. J. (2009). Effects of traditional cupping therapy in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Pain, 10(6), 601-608.

Mohammadi, S., Roostayi, M. M., Naimi, S. S., & Baghban, A. A. (2019). The effects of cupping therapy as a new approach in the physiotherapeutic management of carpal tunnel syndrome. Physiotherapy research international, 24(3), e1770. 

RTPR LLC. (2016, March 6). Arnica can relieve carpal tunnel syndrome. Real Time Pain Relief. 

Schulman, R. A., Liem, B. S., & Moroz, A. (2010). How do you treat carpal tunnel syndrome in your practice? Medical Acupuncture, 22(3). 

Tan, Q., & Cai, X. (2021, June 25). How to treat carpal tunnel syndrome with acupuncture & TCM. Art of wellness. 

Tsai, M.-C., Kuo, Y.-H., Muo, C.-H., Chou, L.-W., & Lu, C.-Y. (2019). Characteristics of traditional Chinese medicine use for carpal tunnel syndrome. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(21), 4086. 

Walter, K. (2022). What is carpal tunnel syndrome? JAMA, 328(6):593. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.10522 

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