Researchers have shown that physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome is just as good as carpal tunnel surgery. The researchers report that 1 year after treatment, individuals having carpal tunnel syndrome that had been given physical therapy experienced results equivalent to those for individuals who had carpal tunnel surgery. Individuals who had received physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome also saw faster improvements after 1 month mark compared to individuals who received carpal tunnel surgery.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include pain, weakness and numbness in the hand and wrist. Almost 50% of all work injuries are associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, which can be a consequence of repetitive movements. Surgery can be considered if carpal tunnel symptoms are severe, but carpal tunnel surgery recovery time prevents over a third of individuals from going back to work for 8 weeks after having carpal tunnel surgery.
The study results show that physical therapy, especially a combination of stretching exercises and manual neck and median nerve therapy, can be a preferable treatment to carpal tunnel surgery, most definitely for starting to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.
One hundred women having carpal tunnel syndrome participated in this study. Randomly allocated, 50 women received physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome and 50 underwent carpal tunnel surgery. Participants allocated to the group receiving physical therapy were treated once a week for 30 minutes with manual therapy techniques focusing on the neck and median nerve, and they were given stretching exercises to do at home.
After 30 days, the participants in the group receiving physical therapy showed better hand function while performing daily activities as well as better grip strength (the pinch strength between the index finger and thumb) compared to the participants who underwent surgery. At 3, 6, and 12 months after treatment, the surgery group participants weren’t any better compared to the participants in the group that received physical therapy. Each group had similar function and grip strength improvements. Participants in both groups had similar pain reductions. It was concluded that both physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel surgery give similar benefits 1 year following treatment. Neither group experienced any improvement in cervical range of motion.
Because only women from one hospital were included in the study, the researchers recommend that more research should be carried out to confirm the results.