Physiotherapy as effective as surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome says new research

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carpal tunnel, surgery, physiotherapy, physical therapy, arthritis magazine, arthritis digest, arthritis informationPhysiotherapy is as effective as surgery in treating carpal tunnel syndrome, according to a new study in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain, numbness and weakness in the wrist and hand. Surgery is considered when symptoms are severe but over one-third of people do not return to work within eight weeks after an operation for carpal tunnel syndrome.

The study

Experts split 100 women with carpal tunnel syndrome into groups: half were treated with physiotherapy and the other half had surgery. The women in the physiotherapy 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.

The findings

  • After one month, those in the physiotherapy group had better hand function during daily activities and better grip strength than the women who had surgery.
  • At three, six, and 12 months after treatment, the women in the surgery group fared no better than those in the physiotherapy group.
  • Both groups showed similar improvements in function and grip strength. Pain decreased similarly in both groups.
  • No improvements in cervical range of motion were observed in either group.

The implications

Physiotherapy, particularly a combination of manual therapy of the neck and median nerve and stretching exercises, could therefore be preferable to surgery to reduce symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

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