Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common and often disabling condition most often associated with data entry and general computer use, but it can affect anyone who performs repetitive hand motions. CTS occurs in women more often than men and is a relatively common temporary complication of pregnancy (due to fluid retention). It also occurs frequently among people with rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes .
CTS is caused by compression of the median nerve. On its way to the hand, the median nerve passes through an opening in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. Constant, repetitive hand motion may aggravate the ligaments and tendons encased in the tunnel, causing them to swell. As the tunnel walls close in, they compress the median nerve. This causes tingling and numbness in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. The discomfort of CTS often wakes people during the night and eventually makes it difficult to grasp small objects.
Most instances of CTS are job-related. Paying attention to proper ergonomics is essential for preventing CTS. This might involve repositioning a computer keyboard or taking breaks more often. Conventional medical treatment for more stubborn CTS cases is variable in its success. Splinting the affected hand, especially at night, may help reduce symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications , such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may help slightly. Surgery is considered the ultimate treatment, but corticosteroid injections may be equally or slightly more effective. 9-10 In some cases, a person with work-related CTS may have no choice but to change vocation.
Proposed Natural Treatments
There are no natural treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome that have any meaningful supporting evidence. Those that have been scientifically evaluated to any extent at all include
More than 25 years ago, researchers noted that people with CTS seemed to be deficient in vitamin B
A few studies have investigated the effectiveness of vitamin B
The bottom line: Because vitamin B
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Hatha yoga, a system of stretching and balancing exercises, has been tried for carpal tunnel syndrome. In one study, 42 individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome were randomly assigned to receive either yoga instruction or a wrist splint for a period of 8 weeks. 6 The results indicated that yoga was more effective than the wrist splint.
However, this study has a serious flaw: participants in the control group were simply offered the wrist splint and given the choice of using it or not. It would have been preferable for them to have received an option with more “glamour,” such as fake laser acupuncture, or, even better, phony yoga postures. Experience from numerous studies shows that when people believe they are receiving an effective treatment, they report improvement, regardless of the nature of the treatment. (See, for example, the magnet therapy study described below.)
For more information on hatha yoga, see the full Yoga article.
In the one reported double, placebo-controlled study of magnet therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome, 30 people with CTS received treatment with either a real or a fake static magnet. 7 Dramatic, long-lasting benefits were seen with the magnet treatment. However, identical, dramatic long-lasting benefits were seen with placebo treatment as well! This study underscores the need for a placebo group in studies—had there not been one in this trial, magnet therapy would have seemed to show itself quite effective for CTS. In two more small randomized trials, researchers again found that there were no differences between the treatment and the placebo groups. Both groups experiencedan improvement in symptoms. 13-14
For more information on magnet therapy, see the full Magnet Therapy article.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 37 people undergoing surgery for CTS, an ointment made from the herb arnica (combined with homeopathic arnica tablets ) proved slightly more effective than placebo for relieving pain after surgery. 8
People who have a stroke that renders one hand paralyzed may develop CTS due to overuse of the remaining functional hand. One poorly designed study found preliminary evidence that mecobalamin, a form of
One study failed to find low-level laser therapy helpful for CTS. 12
In addition, acupuncture has been studied as a potential treatment for CTS. Over a 4-week period, 77 people with mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome were randomized to receive medication (prednisolone) or 8 sessions of acupuncture. 17 During the 7-month and 13-month follow-ups, those in the acupuncture group reported a greater improvement in their symptoms compared to the medication group. 15 In addition, researchers analyzed 6 low-quality, randomized trials investigating acupuncture (and similar therapies) for CTS. 16 In two of those trials (144 subjects), acupuncture was slightly better at improving symptoms than cortisone (steroid) injections, a standard treatment for CTS.
- EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Reviewed: 09/2014
- Updated: 09/18/2014
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