Acupuncture for Hand and Wrist Pain

Hand and wrist pain can occur for a number of different reasons, amongst the most common of which are:

Injury—sudden or repetitive strain injury (RSI), Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendonitis.

Because we use our hands in virtually all of the activities in which we engage, wrist pain can cause us a lot of problems.

Conventional medicine may use painkilling or other medication, physiotherapy or surgery to treat wrist pain, depending on the cause of the problem.

Wrist Pain and TCM

Pain in TCM arises when our Qi is not free flowing; for some reason it is stuck or stagnant. In the case of pain in the wrist, the obstruction is in one or more of the meridians which flow down the arm into the hand.  So treatment will involve freeing up that flow of Qi through the area, this will usually involve acupuncture treatment on the wrist, arm and hand, perhaps combined with invigorating massage and the use of topical herbal applications.

However, it is also important to understand why the Qi is getting stuck at the wrist, and from the perspective of TCM there are several possible causes of this:

i) A single traumatic injury to the area will have temporarily damaged the meridians and blocked the flow of Qi.

This is the most straightforward case and unless the injury is particularly severe a few treatments will usually be enough to substantially reduce the pain if not eradicate it completely.

ii) Repeated small stresses on the wrist may have eventually weakened it, causing a local deficiency of Qi which in turn leads to the Qi failing to flow freely.Treatment here will need to; not only restore the smooth flow, but gradually strengthen the area concerned by encouraging the local nourishing circulation of Qi and Blood.

iii) Whilst the pain is felt in the wrist, there may also be blockage of the meridians further up the arm, and in this case treatment will also need to be focused here to make sure the wrist has an adequate supply of free flowing Qi.

iv) Sometimes the Qi is blocked in the wrist due to what in TCM is called a pathogenic factor obstructing the flow.  For example, in someone with poor circulation, if the hands and wrists are not protected in cold weather, a Cold pathogen may lodge in the wrist, typically leading to sharp, tight pain. In this case as well as moving the Qi , we will want to expel the pathogen involved, using acupuncture, topical and/or oral herbal medicine, and especially moxibustion.

v) Wrist problems, especially if on both arms, may also point to underlying systemic disharmony. Our careful questioning at the initial consultation will give us a clear idea of any such disharmony, and in this case local treatment of the wrist will be supplemented by treatment to rebalance your Qi overall, using acupuncture and perhaps herbal therapy.

Does it Work?

A recent (2007) large scale Randomised Controlled Trial conducted in Germany concluded that acupuncture is a cost effective adjunctive treatment for osteoarthritis. A 2009 study of acupuncture treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis found that symptoms, physical function and quality of life were all significantly improved. An earlier study of 31 patients treated with TCM for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome found that 33 of 36 hands treated experienced either no pain at all or pain reduced by at least 50%. 14 of the hands treated had already had one or two unsuccessful surgical treatments.



Reinhold T et al (2007) Quality of life and cost-effectiveness of acupuncture treatment in patients with osteoarthritis pain.

Eur J Health Econ. 2007 Jul 19; [Epub ahead of print]).

Sato M. et al (2009) Therapeutic effects of acupuncture in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a prospective study using (18)F-FDG-PET.

Branco K. & Naeser M. (1999) Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
Clinical Outcome After Low-Level Laser Acupuncture, Microamps Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, and Other Alternative Therapies—An Open Protocol Study  Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 1999; 5(1): 5-26.


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.