The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway bound by bones and ligaments located on the inside of your wrist. It protects the main nerve to your hand and the tendons that bend your fingers. When there is pressure placed on the nerve, it produces numbness, tingling, pain and over time, loss of strength in the hand, a condition that is known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Pressure on the nerve can stem from anything that reduces the space for it in the carpal tunnel, such as overusing the hand in work, sports and daily activities particularly through repetitive motions, injury to the area, or other health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, certain hormonal disorders, or fluid retention during pregnancy. In many cases, carpal tunnel symptoms may actually be caused by a nerve compression in the neck rather than by a narrowing of the carpal tunnel. Bad posture, for example, can cause compression of the nerves that run down the arm and eventually pass through the carpal tunnel.
In Western medicine, carpal tunnel syndrome is treated with anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids to reduce swelling, with physiotherapy to stretch the ligaments and maintain mobility and muscle strength, with massage for relaxation and – as a last resort – with surgery, to cut the ligament in order to create more space for the confined structures in the carpal tunnel.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are many different reasons why a person develops symptoms like those of CTS. There are two organs that are commonly involved in many bone and muscle/sinew problems, the kidney and liver. The kidneys are said to produce marrow and control the strength of the bones. Therefore if the kidneys are strong and healthy, the bones will be also, whereas if the kidneys are weak the bones may also be weak and/or brittle. The liver controls the state of the sinews (muscle and tendons), so if the liver is strong and functioning properly, the sinews will be properly lubricated and nourished to have the capacity to contract and relax in a healthy manner.
When a problem arises in a joint, whether due to injury or overuse, the body is normally able to recover and heal the tissues. However, with injuries, what can commonly happen at the initial stage is that the qi-energy and blood get stuck and no longer circulate through the joint properly, causing pain. If the quality of blood is generally poor, which is common in a liver yin deficiency, the injured site will of course take longer to heal or even fail to heal completely, because the blood doesn’t provide the proper nourishment to heal the weakened area. When injury occurs in the case of overuse of a joint, the kidneys and liver are also involved, because the joint may sustain damage if it isn’t receiving a sufficient quality of nourishment and moistening of qi-energy and blood.
With acupuncture we can reinforce the energy of kidneys and liver in order to strengthen the bones, muscles and tendons to allow them to heal properly and prevent future injury. We can also encourage circulation of the stuck energy and blood in order to break up the blockages in the injured area and promote healing. Acupuncture provides relief from pain and inflammation, but also encourages healing to the area and a healthier state of functioning, so that the carpal tunnel area is more able to withstand injury and sustain health during frequent use.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.