From yoga to surgery, you have a lot of options when it comes to treating carpal tunnel syndrome. Just remember that what helps your friend or neighbor may not work for you. You may need to try out different approaches to get the relief you need.
Carpal tunnel syndrome tends to come on slowly and get worse with time. But if you treat it early on, you can slow it down or stop it in its tracks. Early treatment can also make for a shorter recovery time.
Typically, you start with basic remedies, like wrist braces. For more severe cases, though, you might need surgery.
To help ease the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, you may want to put ice on your wrist or soak it in an ice bath. Try it for 10 to 15 minutes, once or twice an hour.
You can also gently shake your wrist or hang it over the side of your bed for pain that wakes you up at night.
Some experts suggest you put your hand in warm water, around 100 F, then gently flex and extend your hand and wrist. Try it 3-4 times a day.
Another way to get relief: Rest your hands and wrists as much as possible. Give them a break from things that trigger your symptoms.
While these methods can help, keep in mind that they don't cure carpal tunnel syndrome. At best, they may give you short-term relief as you try other treatments.
Braces are generally best when you have mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome. They don't work for everyone, but there are no side effects either, so it doesn't hurt to try one. Make sure to give it a good 3-4 weeks for your symptoms to improve.
Your doctor will likely suggest that you wear a brace when you go to bed. That's because most people bend their wrists when they sleep, which can make your symptoms worse. You can also try a brace during the day, especially when you do activities that trigger flare-ups.
Tweak Your Activities
Carpal tunnel syndrome often gets set off when you hold your hand and wrist in the same position for a long time. It can be made even worse if you have to keep your wrist bent either up or down, so it's best to keep it in a straight, neutral position. If your work makes that hard to do, you may want to:
- Take a break for 10-15 minutes every hour and stretch your hands.
- Talk to your manager to see if you can change your desk, tools, or workstation setup.
- Try to alternate which hand you use for your tasks.
- Use only as much force as you need. Don't hold your tools too tightly or pound away at your keyboard.
- Watch your posture. Try not to roll your shoulders forward, which sets off a chain reaction that makes wrist problems even worse.
Corticosteroids, such as cortisone, are strong drugs that can lessen swelling. You can sometimes take these medicines as pills. It's also possible your doctor gives it to you as a shot in your wrist that goes right into the carpal tunnel. It can give you temporary relief from pain and swelling, but it's not a long-term solution.
Physical and Occupational Therapy
An occupational or physical therapist can help in a couple of ways. They may give you exercises to stretch and strengthen your hand and wrist muscles. They can also show you how to change your routine motions in a way that eases stress on your hands and wrists. That can be especially helpful when it comes to tasks related to work or your favorite hobbies.
Some people with carpal tunnel syndrome have success with alternative or complementary medicine. Always check with your doctor before trying it. Some options are:
Yoga. Research shows that it eases pain and boosts grip strength.
Ultrasound therapy. This treatment uses sound waves to raise the temperature in your hand and wrist. The heat can relieve pain and help with healing. Results from studies are mixed, but some people find it useful.
If other treatments haven't improved your symptoms in 6 months, your doctor might suggest carpal tunnel release surgery. There are two main types. In open surgery, your surgeon makes an opening about 2 inches long that goes from your wrist to your palm. With endoscopic surgery, you get two smaller openings, and your doctor uses a small camera to guide the operation.
In both surgeries, your doctor cuts the ligament atop the carpal tunnel to take pressure off the median nerve and relieve your symptoms. After surgery, the ligament comes back together, but there's more room for the nerve to pass through.
Both surgeries have similar results. Most of the time, carpal tunnel syndrome gets cured and doesn't come back. If you have a severe case, surgery can help, but your symptoms may not go away completely.