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Carpal Tunnel: Physical Therapy Works

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome TherapyNearly half of all work-related injuries are linked to carpal tunnel syndrome. Repetitive movements – such as typing on the computer – can cause pain, numbness and weakness in the wrist and hand.

Here’s the good news: physical therapy to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, may be just as effective as surgery, according to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.

After following patients with the syndrome for one year while they received physical therapy, researchers found they achieved results comparable to patients who had surgery. However, physical therapy patients saw faster improvements at the one-month mark than the patients who had surgery.

Although surgery may be considered when the symptoms are severe, more than a third of patients do not return to work within eight weeks after an operation for carpal tunnel syndrome, according to a news release from JOSPT.

The study demonstrates that physical therapy–and particularly a combination of manual therapy of the neck and median nerve and stretching exercises–may be preferable to surgery, certainly as a starting point for treatment.

“Conservative treatment may be an intervention option for patients with carpal tunnel syndrome as a first line of management prior to or instead of surgery,” says lead author César Fernández de las Peñas, PT, PhD, DMSc, with the Department of Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Rehabilitation, and Physical Medicine at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Alcorcón, Spain.

Dr. de las Peñas and his fellow researchers studied the cases of 100 women with carpal tunnel syndrome. By random allocation, 50 women were treated with physical therapy and 50 with surgery. Patients assigned to the physical therapy group were treated with manual therapy techniques that focused on the neck and median nerve for 30 minutes, once a week, with stretching exercises at home.

After one month, the patients in the physical therapy group had better hand function during daily activities and better grip strength than the patients who had surgery. At three, six, and 12 months following treatment, patients in the surgery group were no better than those in the physical therapy group. Both groups showed similar improvements in function and grip strength. Pain also decreased similarly for patients in both groups.

The researchers conclude that physical therapy and surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome yield similar benefits one year after treatment. No improvements in cervical range of motion were observed in either patient group.

+ Learn about the hand therapy program at Bon Secours In Motion. Our physical therapy helps people with many hand problems including: sports injuries, fractures, arthritis as well as carpal tunnel syndrome.