Physical Therapy or Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Researchers in Madrid, Spain tested whether physical therapy or surgery was the better treatment option for people with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). The researchers recruited 120 women who had been diagnosed with CTS and split them into two equal groups: surgery or physical therapy. In the surgery group, the treatment was a carpal tunnel release operation, which is the standard surgery for CTS. In the physical therapy group, treatment was 3 sessions of physical therapy. To track progress, researchers focused on pain intensity while also looking at functional status, severity of symptoms, and self-perceived improvement. The participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study and after 1, 3, 6 and 12 months. 92% of the participants completed the treatment and all follow-up visits.

Analysis of the data showed that the physical therapy group had lower pain and improved function at the 1- and 3-month follow-ups. Changes in pain and function were similar between the two groups at the 6- and 12-month follow-ups. Both groups also showed similar improvements in severity of symptoms.

This research suggests that while long-term outcomes of carpal tunnel treatment are similar when comparing surgery and physical therapy, pain and function are improved in the short-term with physical therapy. Based on these results, choosing physical therapy for carpal tunnel treatment can reduce pain and improve function better than surgery in the short term and produce results similar to surgery in the long term.

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