Traditional Remedy Found to Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

“Cupping therapy” may help CTS; stretches can prevent it.

July 13, 2009

A study suggests that cupping therapy can alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Gwyneth Paltrow attracted attention a few years ago when she attended an awards show with strange red welts on her back. It turned out she’d just undergone cupping therapy, a traditional Chinese treatment that uses glass jars placed on the skin. A new study published in the Journal of Pain finds evidence that it’s useful in alleviating the tingling and numbness associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.


THE DETAILS: Researchers assigned 52 patients diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome—finger and wrist pain that occurs when pressure is placed on a nerve protected by the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway in your wrist—to one of two groups. The first group received cupping therapy, in which glass jars are placed over a section of punctured skin and air pumps placed at the opposite ends of the jars remove air to form a vacuum. The suction draws blood to the skin’s surface, which is thought to improve circulation and alleviate pain. In this case, the glasses were placed for five to 10 minutes over the shoulder muscle to affect the nerve that gets aggravated in carpal tunnel syndrome. In a second group, heating pads were placed over the same shoulder muscle for 15 minutes at a time. The cupping therapy group did significantly better after seven days, experiencing a 60 percent decrease in their symptom scores, compared to 23 percent for the other group.

WHAT IT MEANS: In addition to alleviating carpal tunnel syndrome, other studies have found that cupping helps with lower back pain. If you want to try it, you can find a cupping therapist by contacting the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Of course, carpal tunnel syndrome can best be handled by never getting it in the first place. The condition is seen most often in people who perform repetitive tasks with their hands, for instance typing, needlework, or playing a musical instrument.

If you have a job or hobby that involves repeated hand movements, take breaks every hour and perform the six hand-stretching exercises below:

1. Hold your left hand up, palm facing outward. Using your right hand, pull the fingers back toward your wrist until you feel a stretch, and hold that position for 5 seconds. Repeat the stretch on your right hand.

2. Press the palms of your hands together at chest height. Lower them towards your lap until you feel the stretch in your wrists. Hold for 5 seconds.

3. Spread your fingers wide for 5 seconds.

4. On your left hand, gently pull the thumb back towards your wrist until you feel the stretch. Hold it for 5 seconds, and then repeat the move on your right hand.

5. Curl your fingers into a fist: Start with your pinky finger, and gradually fold the remaining four fingers into a fist. Then curl your wrists inward until you feel the stretch, and hold it for 5 seconds.

6. Massage the inside and outside of each hand, and then gently shake them out.

If you work at a computer all day, improper posture and computer positioning can aggravate your carpal tunnels, as well as trigger back, neck, and shoulder pain. Fix the situation with a few simple adjustments:

• Adjust your body position. Move your chair back far enough so that your eyes are an arm’s length or more away from the screen. Your head and neck should be upright, your lower back supported by your chair’s lumbar roll, and your knees at hip level with feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.

• Adjust your monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The monitor should be centered directly in front of you so that the top of the screen is slightly below eye level. The keyboard should be in a position that allows your arms to bend at a 90-degree angle, and your wrists and hands shouldn’t have to bend up, down, or sideways. Your upper arms should hang straight at your sides and your elbows should be snugly close to your body. The mouse should be within easy reach, without you having to lean forward or twist to get it.

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