Do I Need a Brace for My Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

If you have pain, tingling, or numbness in your fingers, you might be wondering about carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s a common condition that affects people in all kinds of work, from data entry to meat packing.

It happens when there’s pressure on your median nerve. This is what gives you feeling in your thumb and all your fingers except for your pinky. When the median nerve goes through your wrist, it passes through the carpal tunnel -- a narrow path that’s made of bone and ligament. If there’s swelling in your wrist, that tunnel is squeezed and it pinches your median nerve, which causes your symptoms.

For a more severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome, you may need surgery. But if you catch it early enough, simpler options like a wrist brace and pain relievers might do the trick.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Early treatment is key with carpal tunnel syndrome. Make an appointment if you have these common symptoms:

  • Burning, numbness, tingling, or pain in your fingers and thumb -- symptoms that may be worse after you’ve been asleep
  • Dropping things more often than usual
  • Weakness in your hand

How Can a Wrist Brace Help?

Most people bend their wrists when they sleep. That puts pressure on the median nerve. A brace can help because it keeps your wrist in a straight, neutral position. A 2012 study found that using a wrist brace at night did more to relieve carpal tunnel symptoms than using no treatment at all.

You may also find it helpful to wear a brace during the day, especially during activities that trigger flare-ups. Repeated motions or extra strain on your wrist can make your symptoms worse. If your job allows for it, try wearing a brace at work.

After you take it off, be sure to keep moving your wrist as you normally would. This helps keep your muscles loose and strong. Just try to avoid too much stress or force on your wrist.

Where Can I Get One?

You can find a wrist brace, which is sometimes called a splint, in most drug stores. Or an occupational therapist can make one for you. When you put on the brace, you’ll want it to be snug, but not too tight. You want to make sure you don’t put even more pressure on your carpal tunnel.

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Does A Brace Really Work?

It depends. They’re generally most helpful for folks who have mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome. People who use one tend to report that their symptoms last for a shorter period of time. They also feel less numbing, tingling, and burning in their wrists when they wake up.

And remember, there’s no such thing as the perfect brace. It might help to try different brands and see if they ease your pain. You may not see lasting results for up to 3-4 weeks.

Will Pain Relievers Help?

For some people, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) relieve the pain and swelling from carpal tunnel syndrome. You can buy these over the counter at your drug store. Common ones include:

While these medicines can help, they won’t cure your condition. At best, they may provide short-term relief as you try other treatments, like a wrist brace, and changes to your daily routine.

What Can Make Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Worse?

As you go about your day, try to find ways to take pressure off your wrist. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid bending your wrist all the way up or down. A more neutral position in the middle of your range of motion is best.
  • Keep your hands warm. Cold hands can make your pain and stiffness even worse.
  • Give your hands and wrists a break as often as you can. Try not to overuse them.
  • Switch up your tasks when possible to avoid repeating the same motions over and over.
  • Lighten up. When it comes to tools and keyboards, more relaxed grips and motions reduce tension.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on March 14, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

NIH, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet.”

Mayo Clinic: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, OrthInfo: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

PubMed Health: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Wrist Splints and Hand Exercises.”

American College of Rheumatology: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

National Health Service: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, OrthInfo: “What Are NSAIDs?”

Office on Women’s Health: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet.”

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