Yogis, writers, tailors, hair cutters, software engineers, carpenters, baristas… For many of these people, wrist pain is the bane of their existence. Ask, and most will tell you they have carpal tunnel. However, in a high percentage of cases, this ubiquitous diagnosis for workplace-induced wrist pain is false.

Most people whose jobs cause or worsen wrist pain are not dealing with true carpal tunnel syndrome. Rather, they are dealing with trigger points caused by repetitive strain on the arm and hand muscles. These trigger points mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel and can be completely eliminated with acupuncture.

Who Really Has Carpal Tunnel?

True carpal tunnel means that the median nerve, which runs from the forearm through a passageway in the wrist to the hand, is compressed. This compression causes pain, numbness, and tingling, and sometimes weakness in the wrist, arm, and hand. Structural malformations that compress the median nerve are not necessarily unusual — for example, a wrist fracture or inflammation from arthritis can crowd the area — but they are not as common as carpal-tunnel statistics would have us believe.

So why is a false diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome problematic? Initial medical treatment for carpal tunnel includes wrist splinting, NSAID drugs and cortisone shots. Not great, but no more harmful than conventional pain management for any other condition. But with carpal tunnel, when these measures don’t work, people turn to surgery relatively quickly because their condition often threatens their livelihood.

Acupuncture could save a lot of people from unnecessarily going under the knife.

Why Go With Acupuncture?

Considering the risk-benefit ratios of various wrist-pain treatments, acupuncture should be a first-line option rather than a last resort.

Acupuncture is safer than NSAIDs and cortisone shots, and it actually eliminates the pain source rather than temporarily masking symptoms. Compared with surgery, acupuncture is cheaper and less invasive and has a higher probability of providing relief to people who don’t have a structural malformation (i.e., the majority). In relatively rare cases of true carpal tunnel syndrome, acupuncture can help manage post-operative trigger points that form in scar tissue and surrounding fascia.

Wrist pain burdens our system not only in the form of medical expenses but also lost wages. Before labeling it all carpal tunnel, let’s look to acupuncture for a new perspective on this prevalent problem.