Study co-author Joshua Cleland is a professor with the physical therapy program at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. “Manual physical therapy may be just as beneficial in improving function and symptom severity as surgery despite the severity of their condition,” he said, noting that 38 percent of those in the therapy group had “severe” carpal tunnel syndrome.
“These manual physical therapy techniques are commonly used here in the United States as well and should become a standard of practice for physical therapists working with patients who have carpal tunnel syndrome,” Cleland said.
Dr. Daniel Polatsch is co-director of the New York Hand and Wrist Center at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He treats several hundred cases of carpal tunnel syndrome each year, of which 15 to 20 percent require surgery.
Treatment should be decided on a case-by-case basis, Polatsch said. Mild cases may be treated with conservative approaches that can include splinting, injections, therapy and activity modification, he added.
“Surgery is necessary when there is muscle weakness or atrophy from the nerve being compressed at the wrist,” he said.
Polatsch added that this type of surgery is generally safe and effective.
Still, operations can have complications, said Cleland. He cited a previous research finding that “approximately 25 percent of individuals undergoing surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome experience treatment failure with half of those requiring an additional surgical procedure.”
According to the researchers, almost half of all work-related injuries are linked to carpal tunnel syndrome. And, more than one-third who undergo surgery for the condition are not back at work eight weeks later.
Because this was a small study focusing only on women, the study authors said that future studies need to examine men.
The study results were published in the March issue of the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on carpal tunnel syndrome.