Carpal tunnel syndrome treatments help relieve the pain that results from carpal tunnel syndrome. The disorder is a result of pressure on the median nerve passing through the small carpal tunnel passageway on the palm side of your wrist. The median nerve provides sensation in the hand and fingers. In addition, nine tendons that control finger and hand movement also pass through the carpal tunnel.
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects millions of Americans each year, yet experts aren’t entirely sure what causes it. A combination of lifestyle and genetic factors are the most likely causes. The disorder typically begins slowly and can gradually increase to cause numbness, stiffness, and pain in the fingers and hand. If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to weakness and a lack of coordination in the fingers and thumb. Women are three times more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome than men.
There is no known way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. However, Novus Spine and Pain Center can help treat the symptoms. Typical symptoms include weakness, pain, or numbness in hands, and a “pins and needles” feeling in the fingers.
Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome depends on the patient’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the severity of the condition.
The initial treatment is often a wrist splint and anti-inflammatory medication. A splint or brace helps keep the wrist from bending or being extended, while relieving pressure on the nerve and eliminating discomfort.
Anti-inflammatory medication, either oral or injected into the carpal tunnel space, can help ease the swelling.
Self-Care Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
For mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, all that may be needed to relieve symptoms is resting the hand and wearing a splint at night. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often occur at night.
Pain medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used for symptom relief. However, these are not a cure.
Splinting and other conservative treatments are more likely to help if you’ve had only mild to moderate symptoms for less than ten months. For severe cases where non-surgical treatments fail to provide relief, surgery may be the best treatment option.
Non-Surgical Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
When carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed early, a doctor will recommend nonsurgical treatment first. Non-surgical methods of treating the disorder include:
Activity changes. Avoid activities that make the symptoms worse. Symptoms often occur when your hand and wrist are in the same position for an extended period. If your job or activity aggravates your symptoms, changing the patterns of hand use helps reduce pressure on the nerve. Take several breaks every hour to wiggle your fingers, stretch your hands, and move your wrists to improve blood flow to these areas.
Bracing or splinting. Wearing a brace or splint at night will keep you from bending the wrist during sleep. Keeping your wrist in a straight or neutral position also reduces pressure on the nerve in the carpal tunnel. Some may find it helpful to wear a splint during the day when doing activities that aggravate the symptoms. Wearing wrist splints at night can also help relieve symptoms that may prevent sleep.
Elevate your hands and wrists whenever possible. This home remedy is particularly effective if the carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pregnancy, fractures, or other issues with fluid retention.
Hot and Cold Therapy. Placing ice on your wrist or soaking the hand and wrist in an ice bath for 10 to 15 minutes, once or twice an hour, can help relieve symptoms. Alternately, some doctors suggest placing your hand and wrist in warm water (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit), then gently flex and extend your hand and wrist for 10 to 15 minutes for three or four times a day.
Ease your grip. When you find yourself straining or forcing tasks such as writing, typing, or using a cash register, use a soft-grip pen or tap the keyboard more lightly.
Avoid hyper-flexing. Avoid activities that make your wrists flex in extreme directions. Try keeping your wrists neutral as much as possible.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), and other non-prescription pain relievers may help provide short-term relief, reduce inflammation and discomfort, but have not been shown to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.
Topical pain relief. Researchers find that applying topical menthol (muscle ointment or cream) greatly reduces the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome for many.
Stay warm. Keeping your hands warm can help with pain and stiffness. Consider wearing fingerless gloves or keeping hand warmers nearby in cold conditions.
Steroid injections. Corticosteroid (cortisone) is a potent anti-inflammatory agent that can be injected into the carpal tunnel to help reduce swelling around the nerve. These injections often help relieve painful symptoms or help to calm a flare-up of symptoms; however, their effect is sometimes only temporary. Oral corticosteroids aren’t considered as effective as injections for treating carpal tunnel syndrome.
Exercises to Strengthen the Wrist
Some patients may benefit from exercises that help the median nerve move more freely within the confines of the carpal tunnel. Many exercises are quick and easy to perform standing in line at the grocery store or sitting at your desk when you have time, or the pain worsens.
Make a Fist
As the name implies, make a tight fist and hold it for a moment with your arms at your side. Then, with your hand, wrist, and arm in a straight line, slowly open your fingers until they are extended straight, pointing toward the floor. Repeat this five to ten times in a row.
Spiders Doing Pushups on a Mirror
Start with your hands together with fingers pointing up and touching the fingers of the opposite hand.
Spread your fingers apart as far as you can, then separate the palms of hands as far as is comfortable while keeping the fingertips together.
This exercise stretches the palmar fascia, carpal tunnel structures, and median nerve, which is the nerve that gets irritated in carpal tunnel syndrome.
Just as it sounds, shake your hands like you’ve just washed them and are trying to air dry them.
The motion helps keep the flexor muscles in the hands and its median nerve from getting cramped and tight.
This last exercise is the deepest stretch of the set:
Place one arm straight out in front of you, elbow straight, with your wrist extended and fingers facing the floor.
Spread your fingers slightly and use your other hand to apply gentle pressure to the downward-facing hand, stretching your wrist and fingers as far as you’re able.
When you reach your maximum point of flexibility, hold this position for about 20 seconds.
Switch hands and repeat.
Do this exercise two to three times with each arm every hour. After a few weeks of doing this multiple times a day, you should notice a significant improvement in your wrist’s flexibility.
A physical or occupational therapist can teach you more advanced exercises to relax your hands that will help relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Stretching is an integral part of any health routine. Every part of the body can benefit from the increased circulation, movement, and mobility that stretching can help provide.
Minimally Invasive Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Stem Cell Therapy. The injection of custom concentrations of your body’s natural healing agents into the wrist can help loosen the pinching of the nerve and restore function.
Ultrasound therapy. The use of sound waves to raise the temperature in the hand and wrist to relieve pain and aid healing. Results from studies are mixed, but some find it helpful.
Alternative Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Some people with carpal tunnel syndrome have success with alternative or complementary medicine. Some options are:
Acupuncture. For some people, the ancient Chinese practice of inserting very fine needles into the skin is more effective than anti-inflammatory medications for alleviating pain, inflammation, and numbness. However, not all patients find the treatment helpful.
Yoga. Research shows that yoga not only helps eases the pain but may also improve grip strength.
Surgical Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Surgery is recommended when carpal tunnel syndrome does not respond to non-surgical treatments or has become severe. The goal of surgery, called carpal tunnel release, is to increase the size of the carpal tunnel and relieve the pressure on the median nerve and tendons that pass through the space. It is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States.
The surgery involves cutting (releasing) the ligament that covers the carpal tunnel at the base of the palm. This ligament is called the transverse carpal ligament. The ligament may gradually grow back together; however, there will be more space in the carpal tunnel, and pressure on the median nerve will be relieved.
The decision to have the surgery is based on the severity of the pain and numbness the patient is experiencing. In most cases, carpal tunnel surgery is done on an outpatient basis.
For most patients, the surgery improves the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Recovery is gradual and may take several months. The numbness and tingling may disappear quickly or gradually. In some cases, the symptoms may not completely disappear after surgery, especially in severe cases.
Occasionally, although rare, carpal tunnel syndrome can recur. Should this happen, the patient will need additional treatment or possibly more surgery.
How to Help Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome often begins because of holding the hand and wrist in the same position for a long time. It can be made even worse if it is necessary to keep the wrist bent either up or down. It is best to keep the wrist it in a straight, neutral position.
The things you can do to help reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
Change/alternate hand/wrist positions while doing activities.
Ensure correct posture and wrist position.
Move the computer keyboard (or change chair position) to allow the wrists and hands to be straight.
When possible, change your desk, tools, or workstation setup to improve hand and wrist placement.
Practice good posture. Avoid rolling shoulders forward, which can make wrist problems even worse.
Take a break for 10-15 minutes every hour and stretch your hands.
Perform wrist-strengthening exercises.
Use a brace or splint.
Use heat treatments.
Use only as much force as necessary. Avoid holding tools too tightly or pounding on your keyboard.
Wearing fingerless gloves can help keep hands warm and flexible.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and treats patients with chronic pain, including carpal tunnel syndrome, with numerous therapies. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle, while minimizing the need for opiates.