As an acupuncturist who has worked in the hospital system in China, I am often surprised to hear that in the West some skeptics and scientists say that acupuncture only works because the person believes it will work for them and that the acupuncture process itself is merely a placebo. Recently researchers from the Harvard Medical School found that acupuncture is effective for carpal tunnel syndrome. They found that the results of acupuncture treatment for carpal tunnel effected the areas in the brain correlating to the median nerve. The effect of acupuncture was seen in MRI scans.
Are the same acupuncture points used all the time in the treatment of carpal tunnel?
My only criticism with some of the research with acupuncture is that the treatments are always standardised, meaning that everyone gets the same treatment. In clinical practise however, every patient would receive a different treatment according to their individual needs. Other factors like, their age, constitution and other underlying conditions all need to be taken into account. A women who is perimenopausal and has carpal tunnel requires quite different treatment to a builder who has carpal tunnel from excessive overuse of the joint.
Can moxibustion help carpal tunnel?
An important part of any acupuncture treatment that I do for carpal tunnel is moxibustion. In fact, some physicians exclusively use moxibustion on many complaints including carpal tunnel, which just demonstrates the broad action of moxibustion. In particular I use direct cone moxibustion which is similar to that as pictured above. One of the basic underlying problems with carpal tunnel is inhibited blood circulation as a result of the swelling. Moxibustion is used to improve blood circulation. My first goal is to reduce swelling in patients with carpal tunnel, because then by default, circulation will improve lessening the pain.
Can treating the neck help carpal tunnel?
The neck is quite important in treating carpal tunnel. Modern science has of course shown us that nerves coming out the neck travel to the arms and wrists. At night when we sleep, the muscles including those in the neck will constrict and hence there will be less blood and nerve supply going to the hands causing numbness in the wrists. A common complaint with carpal tunnel sufferers is that they wake up with numbness and I suggest to these patients when they wake up to move the neck around and stimulate the nerves and blood circulation to the wrists.
Is surgery for carpal tunnel the first option in China?
In my experience, the incidence of surgery for carpal tunnel is much less than in the West. Most people in China, would seek acupuncture and herbal medicine before the surgery option.
Further reading on acupuncture for carpal tunnel.
My colleague Heiko Lade has also written some other posts on acupuncture for carpal tunnel and can be accessed here. There is also a useful YouTube link outlining self help massage techniques available here.