Acupuncture and related interventions for the treatment of symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome

Thank you to Cochrane library for this wonderful article and: Choi GH, Wieland LS, Lee H, Sim H, Lee MS, Shin BC. Acupuncture and related interventions for the treatment of symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD011215. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011215.pub2.

Background:Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a compressive neuropathic disorder at the level of the wrist. Acupuncture and other methods that stimulate acupuncture points, such as electroacupuncture, auricular acupuncture, laser acupuncture, moxibustion, and acupressure, are used in treating CTS. Acupuncture has been recommended as a potentially useful treatment for CTS, but its effectiveness remains uncertain. We used Cochrane methodology to assess the evidence from randomised and quasi‐randomised trials of acupuncture for symptoms in people with CTS.


To assess the benefits and harms of acupuncture and acupuncture‐related interventions compared to sham or active treatments for the management of pain and other symptoms of CTS in adults.

Search methods

On 13 November 2017, we searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, AMED, CINAHL Plus, DARE, HTA, and NHS EED. In addition, we searched six Korean medical databases, and three Chinese medical databases from inception to 30 April 2018. We also searched clinical trials registries for ongoing trials.

Selection criteria

We included randomised and quasi‐randomised trials examining the effects of acupuncture and related interventions on the symptoms of CTS in adults. Eligible studies specified diagnostic criteria for CTS. We included outcomes measured at least three weeks after randomisation. The included studies compared acupuncture and related interventions to placebo/sham treatments, or to active interventions, such as steroid nerve blocks, oral steroid, splints, non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), surgery and physical therapy.

Data collection and analysis

The review authors followed standard Cochrane methods.

Main results

We included 12 studies with 869 participants. Ten studies reported the primary outcome of overall clinical improvement at short‐term follow‐up (3 months or less) after randomisation. Most studies could not be combined in a meta‐analysis due to heterogeneity, and all had an unclear or high overall risk of bias.

Seven studies provided information on adverse events. Non‐serious adverse events included skin bruising with electroacupuncture and local pain after needle insertion. No serious adverse events were reported.

One study (N = 41) comparing acupuncture to sham/placebo reported change on the Boston Carpal Tunnel Questionnaire (BCTQ) Symptom Severity Scale (SSS) at three months after treatment (mean difference (MD) ‐0.23, 95% confidence interval (CI) ‐0.79 to 0.33) and the BCTQ Functional Status Scale (FSS) (MD ‐0.03, 95% CI ‐0.69 to 0.63), with no clear difference between interventions; the evidence was of low certainty. The only dropout was due to painful acupuncture. Another study of acupuncture versus placebo/sham acupuncture (N = 111) provided no usable data.

Two studies assessed laser acupuncture versus sham laser acupuncture. One study (N = 60), which was at low risk of bias, provided low‐certainty evidence of a better Global Symptom Scale (GSS) score with active treatment at four weeks after treatment (MD 7.46, 95% CI 4.71 to 10.22; range of possible GSS scores is 0 to 50) and a higher response rate (risk ratio (RR) 1.59, 95% CI 1.14 to 2.22). No serious adverse events were reported in either group. The other study (N = 25) did not assess overall symptom improvement.

One trial (N = 77) of conventional acupuncture versus oral corticosteroids provided very low‐certainty evidence of greater improvement in GSS score (scale 0 to 50) at 13 months after treatment with acupuncture (MD 8.25, 95% CI 4.12 to 12.38) and a higher responder rate (RR 1.73, 95% CI 1.22 to 2.45). Change in GSS at two weeks or four weeks after treatment showed no clear difference between groups. Adverse events occurred in 18% of the oral corticosteroid group and 5% of the acupuncture group (RR 0.29, 95% CI 0.06 to 1.32). One study comparing electroacupuncture and oral corticosteroids reported a clinically insignificant difference in change in BCTQ score at four weeks after treatment (MD ‐0.30, 95% CI ‐0.71 to 0.10; N = 52).

Combined data from two studies comparing the responder rate with acupuncture versus vitamin B12, produced a RR of 1.16 (95% CI 0.99 to 1.36; N = 100, very low‐certainty evidence). No serious adverse events occurred in either group.

One study of conventional acupuncture versus ibuprofen in which all participants wore night splints found very low‐certainty evidence of a lower symptom score on the SSS of the BCTQ with acupuncture (MD ‐5.80, 95% CI ‐7.95 to ‐3.65; N = 50) at one month after treatment. Five people had adverse events with ibuprofen and none with acupuncture.

One study of electroacupuncture versus night splints found no clear difference between the groups on the SSS of the BCTQ (MD 0.14, 95% CI ‐0.15 to 0.43; N = 60; very low‐certainty evidence). Six people had adverse events with electroacupuncture and none with splints. One study of electroacupuncture plus night splints versus night splints alone presented no difference between the groups on the SSS of the BCTQ at 17 weeks (MD ‐0.16, 95% CI ‐0.36 to 0.04; N = 181, low‐certainty evidence). No serious adverse events occurred in either group.

One study comparing acupuncture plus NSAIDs and vitamins versus NSAIDs and vitamins alone showed no clear difference on the BCTQ SSS at four weeks (MD ‐0.20, 95% CI ‐0.86 to 0.46; very low‐certainty evidence). There was no reporting on adverse events.

Authors’ conclusions

Acupuncture and laser acupuncture may have little or no effect in the short term on symptoms of CTS in comparison with placebo or sham acupuncture. It is uncertain whether acupuncture and related interventions are more or less effective in relieving symptoms of CTS than corticosteroid nerve blocks, oral corticosteroids, vitamin B12, ibuprofen, splints, or when added to NSAIDs plus vitamins, as the certainty of any conclusions from the evidence is low or very low and most evidence is short term. The included studies covered diverse interventions, had diverse designs, limited ethnic diversity, and clinical heterogeneity. High‐quality randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are necessary to rigorously assess the effects of acupuncture and related interventions upon symptoms of CTS. Based on moderate to very‐low certainty evidence, acupuncture was associated with no serious adverse events, or reported discomfort, pain, local paraesthesia and temporary skin bruises, but not all studies provided adverse event data.

Plain language summary

Acupuncture and related treatments for symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

Review question

Do acupuncture and related treatments improve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in adults?


Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that may cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand. It develops when the median nerve, which stretches from the arm into the hand, is compressed as it passes through a structure called the carpal tunnel in the wrist. A person’s job could be a factor in developing CTS and it can be an additional problem in people with other diseases, such as inflammatory arthritis. CTS can be treated by hand exercises, splinting, pain medicines, and injections. Severe CTS may be treated with surgery. People with CTS sometimes choose acupuncture and related treatments to manage the symptoms of CTS. Acupuncture uses needles to puncture the skin and stimulate acupuncture points on the body. These acupuncture points lie along the meridian, which is thought of as a pathway of energy through the body. Acupuncture‐related treatments use different methods to stimulate the acupuncture points. For example, laser acupuncture uses lasers instead of needles.

Study characteristics

We found 12 studies, which analysed 869 people with CTS. There were 148 men and 579 women (1 study did not specify gender). Participant age ranged from 18 to 85 years. The number of people in each study was between 26 and 181. CTS symptoms had been present for months or years. The studies compared needle acupuncture or laser acupuncture to placebo/sham treatments or active treatments, such as corticosteroid nerve blocks, oral corticosteroids, ibuprofen, night splints, physical therapy, and vitamin B12.

Key results and certainty of the evidence

There may be little or no evidence for any difference between acupuncture or laser acupuncture and placebo or sham for symptoms of CTS. We cannot tell whether acupuncture and related interventions are more or less effective than other methods for the treatment of CTS symptoms. The studies we found were small and there may have been problems in how they were carried out. There was not much information on each comparison. The studies found some side effects from acupuncture, such as pain and bruising. None of the harms were serious. However, not all the studies provided information on side effects. We do not have enough good information from current studies to be sure about the effects of acupuncture and related treatments for CTS. We need larger and better‐quality studies to understand any effects of acupuncture and related interventions on symptoms of CTS.

This review is up‐to‐date to 13 November 2017 for English databases and 30 April 2018 for Chinese and Korean databases.

2019-08-21T10:53:04+00:00December 12th, 2018|

Acupuncture MRI Results After Ischemic Stroke

Thank you to Health CMI for this informative article:

Acupuncture regulates brain regions for ischemic stroke patients. Southern Medical University researchers gathered MRI data in a controlled clinical trial consisting of both healthy subjects and patients suffering from ischemic stroke. In a controlled human clinical trial, Waiguan (TB5) applied unilaterally to the right arm produced significant MRI findings. True acupuncture caused important changes in brain functional connectivity.

The researchers determined that true acupuncture triggers significant negative activation in the default mode network (DMN) and other brain regions specific to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) indications of Waiguan. The DMN is a network of highly correlated brain regions, which is active under resting-state conditions. In addition, they found that ischemic stroke affects the brain’s overall response to acupuncture. The healthy control group and the ischemic stroke group had different negatively-activated brain regions in the DMN when receiving true acupuncture. [1]


Waiguan (TB5)
The earliest introduction of Waiguan was found in the Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine). Waiguan is the luo-connecting point of the hand shaoyang sanjiao meridian as well as one of the eight confluent points. It is the confluent point of the yang linking vessel. Needling Waiguan is indicated for the treatment of the following disorders: upper limb disorders (e.g., upper limb paralysis, pain, numbness, swelling and other motor and sensory dysfunction), head and sensory organ disorders (e.g., migraines, red and swollen eyes, tinnitus, deafness), fever and exogenous diseases (e.g., common cold, febrile illnesses). The researchers found that needling Waiguan raises negative activation in the somatic motor cortex, somatic sensory cortex, visual information processing cortex, and auditory information process cortex.


In the normal control group, the brain regions deactivated by real acupuncture included the left superior parietal lobule, left inferior parietal lobule, left precuneus, left superior frontal gyrus, left precentral gyrus, left postcentral gyrus, left occipital lobe, right precentral gyrus, right postcentral gyrus, right precuneus, and right cuneus. The precentral gyrus and superior frontal gyrus are involved in somatic motor functions. The superior parietal lobule and postcentral gyrus are associated with somatic sensory functions. The occipital lobe interprets visual information. The aforementioned regions are specific to the indications of Waiguan. The inferior parietal lobule, occipital lobe, and precuneus are DMN related regions. On the other hand, the brain regions deactivated by sham acupuncture included the left precentral gyrus, left postcentral gyrus, and right superior frontal gyrus. The results indicate specific brain activation patterns associated with true acupuncture and sham acupuncture respectively.

In the ischemic stroke group, the brain regions deactivated by real acupuncture included the left medial frontal gyrus, left postcentral gyrus, left middle temporal gyrus, right postcentral gyrus, right precentral gyrus, and right medial frontal gyrus. The middle temporal gyrus is associated with interpreting auditory information. It is regarded as a Waiguan indication-specific region along with the precentral gyrus, postcentral gyrus, and middle temporal gyrus. The medial frontal gyrus is a part of DMN regions. By contrast, the brain regions deactivated by sham acupuncture included the left and right precuneus.


The researchers (Zhang et al.) used the following study design. A total of 44 subjects participated in the study and were divided into two groups, with 24 and 20 subjects in each group respectively. The treatment group subjects were selected from the Nanfang Hospital and the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The treatment group patients were diagnosed with ischemic stroke. The control group subjects included healthy volunteers.

The statistical breakdown for each group was as follows. The treatment group was comprised of 10 males and 10 females. The mean age of the treatment group was 52.8 years. The mean weight was 50.3 kg. The mean height was 160.3 cm. The mean course of disease was 2.2 months. The control group was comprised of 12 males and 12 females. The mean age of the control group was 24.6±3.4 years. The mean weight was 51.4 kg. The mean height was 163.4 cm. There were no significant differences in terms of their gender, age, height, and weight. Both groups were scanned using fMRIs after receiving true or sham acupuncture intervention.


Real Acupuncture
True acupuncture and sham acupuncture were performed by the same acupuncturist with clinical and research experience. Both procedures employed the use of a tube-guided device that can be attached to the skin (Park Sham Tube, AcuPrime). The Park Sham Tube needle is a research device that mimics true acupuncture; however, the needle never penetrates the skin. Instead, the needle retracts into the handle when tapped, thereby visibly appearing as true acupuncture.

After disinfection of the acupoint site, a 0.30 × 40 mm disposable filiform needle was tapped into the acupoint of each patient with a high needle entry speed, reaching a depth of 10 (±2) mm. Upon a deqi sensation, the Ping Bu Ping Xie (attenuating and tonifying) manipulation technique was applied, with a twisting range of 180 degrees and frequency of 60 times/minute. The manipulation was not employed for the first 30 seconds, it was then initiated for the second 30 seconds, and then stopped again for the third 30 second interval. The whole process was repeated continuously for a total of 180 seconds. The device was placed on the skin until the treatment session was finished.


Sham Acupuncture Treatment Simulation
The sham acupuncture group use needles with a retractable, flattened needle point. The Ping Bu Ping Xie (attenuating and tonifying) manipulation was applied. For the first 30 seconds, the needle was slightly lifted to keep the needle point away from the skin; for the second 30 seconds, the needle was tapped into the tube to make the needle point slightly touch the skin, for the third 30 seconds, the needle was lifted again. The whole process was repeated continuously for a total of 180 seconds. The device was placed on the skin until the treatment session was finished.


According to the research, true acupuncture at Waiguan regulates DMN brain regions and raises negative activation in indication-specific regions, including the somatic motor cortex, somatic sensory cortex, visual information processing cortex, and auditory information process cortex. The process was verified by repeated applications across multiple subjects and was verified by MRIs. The results indicate that acupuncture produces point-specific effects on brain regions in ischemic stroke patients.

This type of research supports additional findings by other researchers. In another investigation, Yang et al. conclude that acupuncture has the ability to “promote the proliferation and differentiation of neural stem cells in the brain… accelerate angiogenesis and inhibit apoptosis…. prevent and treat neural injuries following cerebral ischemia.” [2] Yang et al. add that GV20 (Baihui) and GV26 (Shuigou) regulate cells which “increase the release of nerve growth factors (NGFs) to make nerve cells survive and axons grow, synthesize neurotransmitters, (and) metabolize toxic substances….” In addition, the researchers note that needling CV24 (Chengjiang), CV4 (Guanyuan), GV26, and GV20 “inhibit excessive proliferation of the hippocampal astrocytes and promote cellular differentiation.”

Yang et al. also note that acupuncture at GV20 and GV14 (Dazhui) affect the contents and expression of signal transducers and activators of transcription (STATs). STATs are active in the Janus kinase STAT pathway and transmit information from chemical signals outside the cell, through the cell membrane, and into gene promoters on the DNA inside the cell nucleus (causing DNA transcription and cellular activity). Yang et al. note that acupuncture’s influence on STATs indicates that it activates self-protection and reduction of “apoptosis of the nerve cells in and around the ischemic focus.” This indicates that acupuncture has a neuroprotective effect for stroke patients.


[1] Zhang GF, Huang Y, Tang CS, Lai XS, Chen JQ. Identification of Deactivated Brain Regions by Real and Non-penetrating Sham Acupuncture Stimulation on Waiguan: An fMRI Study in Normal Versus Pathological Conditions [J]. Chinese General Practice, 2017, 20(9):1098-1103.

[2] Zhou-xin Yang, Peng-dian Chen, Hai-bo Yu, Wen-shu Luo, Yong-Gang Wu, Min Pi, Jun-hua Peng, Yong-feng Liu, Shao-yun Zhang, Yan-hua Gou. Research advances in treatment of cerebral ischemic injury by acupuncture of conception and governor vessels to promote nerve regeneration. Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine, 01-2012. vol. 10, 1. Shenzhen Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital, Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine.


2018-12-12T10:41:13+00:00December 12th, 2018|