By Joyce Kawalchuk
Here's a question- "how does acupuncture work?" Sure, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been around for centuries, but is longevity enough to make you confide in a medical treatment? If you're a skeptic, no...no, it's not. Scientific evidence shows that acupuncture consistently works to provide measurable health improvements, especially in cases of chronic pain.
According to a recent study published in BRAIN: A Journal of Neurology, research indicates that acupuncture rewires the brain in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. These findings support the benefits of local treatment with electro-acupuncture to produce long-term pain relief associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a neuropathic pain disorder characterized by numbness, tingling, weakness, and often pain in the hand due to pressure on the median nerve. The median nerve, along with several tendons, are encased by a ligamentous sheath referred to as the "carpal tunnel" in the wrist. This sheath provides stability to the wrist and aids in mobility.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Pressure on the median nerve in the wrist causes carpal tunnel syndrome. Pressure can come from any inflammation or swelling to the local area. This swelling makes the carpal tunnel smaller, therefore increasing pressure and irritation on the nerve.
Certain health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and hypothyroidism may contribute to this swelling. Repetitive wrist movements and pregnancy may also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
How Can Acupuncture Help?
Acupuncture is considered a minimally invasive therapeutic option for many health conditions, including neuropathy. In cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, acupuncture with electro-stimulation has been shown to decrease local symptom severity such as pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness over the course of a 3 month period.
Short-term vs. Long-term Relief
Sure, local pain relief is great, but will it last? The outcome of this study showed measurable improvements in outcomes of both the affected wrist and the brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) taken before and after several months of therapy, evidence suggests that brain remapping in the primary somatosensory cortex (area of the brain where touch sensations are processed) may have compounding effects that lead to long-term pain relief.
This study demonstrates the immediate and long-term benefits of acupuncture treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. The long-term physiological benefits of treatment of CTS are thought to be due to the brain remapping that begins immediately post-treatment.
Further research into understanding how acupuncture works to relieve pain will provide greater opportunity for patients seeking effective alternative therapy for chronic pain.
Study Shows Differences in Effects of ‘Real’ and ‘Sham’ Acupuncture
Rewiring the Primary Somatosensory Cortex in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome with Acupuncture