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Electroacupuncture and splinting versus splinting alone to treat carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial [Research]

Background:

The effectiveness of acupuncture for managing carpal tunnel syndrome is uncertain, particularly in patients already receiving conventional treatments (e.g., splinting). We aimed to assess the effects of electroacupuncture combined with splinting.

Methods:

We conducted a randomized parallel-group assessor-blinded 2-arm trial on patients with clinically diagnosed primary carpal tunnel syndrome. The treatment group was offered 13 sessions of electroacupuncture over 17 weeks. The treatment and control groups both received continuous nocturnal wrist splinting.

Results:

Of 181 participants randomly assigned to electroacupuncture combined with splinting (n = 90) or splinting alone (n = 91), 174 (96.1%) completed all follow-up. The electroacupuncture group showed greater improvements at 17 weeks in symptoms (primary outcome of Symptom Severity Scale score mean difference [MD] –0.20, 95% confidence interval [CI] –0.36 to –0.03), disability (Disability of Arm, Shoulder and Hand Questionnaire score MD –6.72, 95% CI –10.9 to –2.57), function (Functional Status Scale score MD –0.22, 95% CI –0.38 to –0.05), dexterity (time to complete blinded pick-up test MD –6.13 seconds, 95% CI –10.6 to –1.63) and maximal tip pinch strength (MD 1.17 lb, 95% CI 0.48 to 1.86). Differences between groups were small and clinically unimportant for reduction in pain (numerical rating scale –0.70, 95% CI –1.34 to –0.06), and not significant for sensation (first finger monofilament test –0.08 mm, 95% CI –0.22 to 0.06).

Interpretation:

For patients with primary carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic mild to moderate symptoms and no indication for surgery, electroacupuncture produces small changes in symptoms, disability, function, dexterity and pinch strength when added to nocturnal splinting.

Trial registration:

Chinese Clinical Trial Register no. ChiCTR-TRC-11001655 (www.chictr.org.cn/showprojen.aspx?proj=7890); subsequently deposited in the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (apps.who.int/trialsearch/Trial2.aspx?TrialID=ChiCTR-TRC-11001655).

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