Many patients with chronic carpal tunnel syndrome are told they need surgery to relieve the pain. While surgical interventions aim to relieve pressure on the irritated median nerve, the treatment may be too narrow in scope for some patients. Case in point: nearly a third of patients who receive surgery for carpal tunnel report a return in symptoms within two years of surgery.1
Recent research suggests there's more to carpal tunnel than wrist and arm pain: CTS could be related to problems in the neck.
A recent study from Journal of Orthopaedic and Physical Therapy assessed the cervical range of motion in 71 women with carpal tunnel syndrome. Compared to women without CTS, women with carpal tunnel had significantly restricted range of motion. The greater the pain intensity women experienced, the less able they were to perform lateral flexion away from the affected side. There were no major difference among women with minimal, moderate, or severe CTS.
This study confirms what chiropractors have known for years: that wrist pain can often be related to problems in the cervical spine. In fact, the cervical spine may be the source of wrist and arm pain for patients with cervical radiculopathy. That's why chiropractors use a more holistic approach to treating carpal tunnel syndrome, one that involves relieving irritation of the median nerve in addition to addressing any underlying concerns in the neck. Chiropractors can draw on a combination of spinal adjustments, trigger point therapy, exercises, and advice on ways to prevent overuse injuries.
Research shows that this holistic approach is successful for many patients with carpal tunnel. A 2010 study found that trigger point therapy administered by chiropractors resulted in 67% improvement in symptoms.2
In another study published earlier, CTS patients who received soft tissue mobilization and other chiropractic treatments had significantly reduced hand pain intensity after just a week of treatment. They also showed signs of reduced pain sensitivity in certain joints of the cervical spine.3
Case studies also suggest that chiropractic can be effective for chronic CTS patients who failed to improve with other methods like surgery, wrist splints, and drugs.4
If you suffer from ongoing wrist pain and CTS, remember that surgery is not your only option for relief. Chiropractic care could address the multifaceted nature of your pain to provide lasting relief of carpal tunnel syndrome.
1. Bessette L, Keller RB, Liang MH, Simmons BP, Fossel AH, Katz JN. Patients' preferences and their relationship with satisfaction following carpal tunnel release. Journal of Hand Surgery 1997;22:61320. Quoted in Hains G, et al (2010).
2. Hains G, Descarreaux M, Lamy AM, Hains F. A randomized controlled (intervention) trial of ischemic compression therapy for chronic carpal tunnel syndrome. Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association 2010; 54(3): 155163.
3. De-la-llave-Rincon, A. Response of pain intensity to soft tissue mobilization and neurodynamic technique: a series of 18 patients with chronic carpal tunnel syndrome. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2012; doi:10.1016/j.jmpt.2012.06.002.
4. Crafts GJ, et al. Chiropractic management of work-related upper limb disorder complicated by intraossesous ganglion cysts: a case report. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine 2011; 10(3): 166-172.