When it comes to the conservative management of a condition like carpal tunnel syndrome, care will usually focus on reducing inflammation along the course of the carpal tunnel and improving mobility of the median nerve as it travels from the neck and into the hand. This treatment approach may also include the use of nutritional supplements, of which alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is starting to show promise.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that naturally occurs in the body and can also be found in organ meats, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes. However, it’s often consumed as a supplement in order to get enough into the body to have an observable effect. Though research is ongoing, two benefits of ALA that are important for potential carpal tunnel treatment are its ability to reduce inflammation and to protect nerves from damage.
In a 2020 study involving 134 patients on a surgical waiting list with mild-to-moderate CTS, researchers observed that taking a 600mg ALA supplement once a day for 60 days reduced both daytime and nighttime hand and wrist pain, with 14% of participants in the ALA group canceling their surgery. The authors of this study add that previous studies that combined ALA with either curcumin or gamma-linolenic acid provided similar benefits to participants.
A 2018 study that included 31 CTS patients reported that ALA, N-acetyl-L-carnitine, turmeric, vitamins B, E, and C formulated for peripheral neuropathy (taken twice a day for one month) led to similar improvements in pain, symptom severity, and function as extremely-low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELFEF) therapy, but the benefits persisted in the supplement group for another two months while the ELFEF participants reverted to their baseline pain and function levels.
A systematic review conducted in 2020 concluded that ALA is safe, even in groups normally observed to be at risk like smokers, cardiovascular disease patients, diabetics, pregnant women, children/adolescents, and individuals with neurological disorders, rheumatic disorders, and severe renal disease.
While further research is certainly warranted on the benefits of a supplement like ALA for the CTS patient, it is certainly showing promise, and a patient may consider it as part of a multimodal approach that can include manual therapies, specific exercises, nocturnal splinting, heat/ice, and an anti-inflammatory diet.