Acupuncture for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Characterised by pain and numbness which affects the thumb, index finger, middle finger and ring finger, carpal tunnel syndrome frequently occurs in the later stages of pregnancy owing to oedema (swelling of soft tissue) in the hands.  The numbness, tingling or burning sensations occur because the median nerve is being restricted as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.   The symptoms will be worse for use, and may even spread to the forearm and palm of the affected arm.  In chronic cases, the muscles around the thumb may waste.

This syndrome can, if severe, interfere with daily activities such as being able to hold a cup or brush the hair. There may be loss of sleep due to being woken in the night by pain in the hands. In some cases “double entrapment” occurs; in which nerve roots at the cervical spine also need to be released by inserting needles into the Para spinal muscles.

Acupuncture can also help with other symptoms commonly found in patients suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome such as neck pain, shoulder strain, headaches and eye strain.

Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and TCM

Pain in TCM arises when our Qi is not free flowing; for some reason it is stuck or stagnant. Wherever it is in our body, TCM treatment usually includes acupuncture to encourage the Qi to move more freely. Needles may be inserted near the pain itself, but quite often acupuncture points in the hands, feet, arms or legs may be used. Based on an individualised assessment of the signs and symptoms exhibited by the patient, acupuncture is used to treat the excesses or deficiencies of Qi located in various meridians.

TCM, however, is a holistic form of medicine, which means that it sees the person as a whole; the TCM practitioner will see the pain as part of a bigger picture which is the overall health of the patient. This will give him, or her, an understanding of why the pain is happening, and treatment will thus be geared not only to symptomatic relief of the wrist pain, but to improving the general health of the patient so that the pain will, in time, be relieved.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome?

A review of the research literature carried out by Leake and Broderic in 1999 indicated that acupuncture was effective for a wide range of conditions, including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Acupuncture helps to restore normal nerve function and can provide long term relief of pain associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. There is limited research into the specific condition of carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy, but case histories indicate that treatment is successful although the number of treatments required to resolve the condition will depend upon the length of time it has been experienced.  Wolfe (undated) details three cases using various means to treat the condition which led to successful outcomes for the patients concerned.

In 1997, the US National Institute of Health Consensus panel, having reviewed the available clinical studies, acknowledged that acupuncture can help in the treatment of this condition.  Other studies have shown that acupuncture can help to stimulate the production of cortisol, a hormone which reduces pain and inflammation, as well as helping to reduce oedema.

A 2017 study4 suggested that acupuncture generates beneficial morphological changes in the median nerve of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome and reduces or eliminates symptoms.


1 Leake, R., Broderic, J.E. (1999) Treatment Efficacy of Acupuncture: A review of the Research Literature, Integrative Medicine, Vol1, Iss. 3 pp107-115

2 Wolfe, H.L (undated) One Approach to Acumoxa Therapy for Pain due to Tendonitis of the Hand, Wrist, and Forearm.  Available from:

3 Endres et al (2007) Acupuncture for the Treatment of Chronic Headaches Dtsch Arztebl 2007; 104(3): A 114–22

4 Ural, Fatma Gülçin, and Gökhan Tuna Öztürk. “The acupuncture effect on median nerve morphology in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome: an ultrasonographic study.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2017 (2017)


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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