Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a major work-related problem. Work that requires the same hand movements over and over is the most common proposed cause. The workload on a few small groups of muscles in the wrist and hand is high with assembly line work, typing, or operating some types of machinery. Pressure on the median nerve with wrist pain and hand numbness may result.
Surgery is done in 40 to 45 percent of work-related CTS. The surgeon releases pressure on the median nerve by cutting the ligament that goes across the wrist crease. After surgery, one-third of the patients still have pain and loss of hand function. Less than half get full motion and normal function back.
In California, it costs about $5,000 to treat one case of CTS without surgery. With surgery, the cost goes up to around $21,000. Across the United States, the average cost to treat one case of CTS is $12,000. A less expensive and more successful treatment is needed.
Such a treatment may be on the horizon. One study with 11 people showed that using low-level laser therapy and electrical stimulation works. Stimulation was given to acupuncture points in the arm and wrist. Almost 90 percent of the people had pain relief after a series of treatments. Everyone was able to return to work with less or no pain.
The cost of 15 sessions with laser and electrical stimulation is approximately $1,000. This is a $4,000 savings before surgery. This form of treatment is best used in the early stages of CTS before prolonged pressure damages the nerve. The next step for researchers is to conduct a study with a larger number of people.