Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) ranges from mild to severe. Appropriate treatment can often restore function in the hand and wrist and relieve symptoms.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway that runs from the wrist to the hand on the palm side of the wrist. Bones, ligaments, and tendons make up its structure. A nerve called the median nerve passes through the tunnel.
The median nerve runs from a network of nerves that start near the neck and shoulder and run down to the hand. The median nerve provides sensation to the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the thumb side of the ring finger.
CTS causes tingling, numbness, thumb weakness, and dull aching in the hand or arm. This occurs due to pinching and compression on the median nerve.
In the United States, the condition occurs in between 4 and 10 million people. Severe CTS may require surgery.
However, in this article, we look at the possible options for supporting and easing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome at home.
10 lifestyle measures
Avoid repetitive hand movements to limit the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome.
The following lifestyle and home remedies may provide some relief for mild to moderate CTS symptoms, but little clinical evidence supports using them in place of conventional treatments.
Always seek advice from a doctor.
Some medical professionals suggest:
- avoiding repetitive hand and wrist movements, where possible
- paying attention to the hands and wrists and stopping activities on feeling pain, discomfort, or numbness
- taking frequent breaks if activities that involve repetitive hand movements are unavoidable
- trying to keep the wrist in a neutral position without extending the wrist too far up or flexing it too far down
- using the largest joints possible when lifting, such as the shoulder, to avoid extra stress on the wrists, hands, and fingers
- not holding objects in the same way for too long
- avoiding power tools that vibrate, such as jackhammers and floor sanders
- adapting the workplace to keep a neutral wrist position
- relaxing the grip or level of force during activities the involve the hands, such as writing
- trying not to sleep on the hands or with the wrists in bent positions
Some evidence suggests that regular physical activity and exercises, especially involving the hands, may help protect against mild CTS.
However, CTS does not usually resolve without management, and it can get worse without medical intervention. Seeing a doctor on experiencing persistent numbness or weakness in the hand is essential.
10 home remedies
The following home remedies may help relieve CTS:
- resting the affected hand and wrist for at least 2 weeks
- using anti-vibration products with vibrating tools
- wearing a wrist splint or brace to rest the median nerve
- doing gentle hand, finger, and wrist-stretching exercises
- massaging the wrists, palms, and backs of the hands
- wearing work gloves to protect the hands and wrists
- applying heat to the wrist to help reduce pain
- wearing an ice pack, which may also help to lessen swelling
- adding extra material to tool and utensil handles for a more comfortable grip
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
People who try OTC medications should be aware that studies have found that they do not provide full relief for people with CTS symptoms. They may also increase the risk of gut problems and bleeding.
Some yoga exercises might improve pain symptoms and a weak grip.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that some alternative treatments may help improve the symptoms of CTS.
Some studies have also recommended that the following methods can provide short-term relief:
- Yoga stretching and strengthening exercises may reduce pain and improve grip.
- Hand therapy techniques used in physical and occupational therapy may relieve symptoms.
- Ultrasound therapy raises the temperature of the affected area, potentially reducing pain and promoting recovery.
- Applying topical anti-inflammatory medications as well as ultrasound may also be helpful.
- Laser therapy might improve symptoms according to limited evidence.
People should always check with their doctors before using any complementary or alternative treatment. Medical professionals do not recommend replacing conventional treatments with unproven therapies.
Drug treatment and surgery
In addition to wearing splints and other comfort measures, prescription medications or injections are available.
Oral corticosteroid medication may decrease inflammation and swelling, which might help to reduce pressure on the median nerve. Corticosteroid medication is also available as an injection into the wrist. Injections seem to be more effective than oral corticosteroids for CTS.
No significant evidence supports the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat CTS.
Conventional treatments for CTS should take place under the guidance of a doctor.
For people who develop CTS during pregnancy, symptoms usually resolve 6 to 12 weeks after giving birth. Some specialists recommend putting a splint on the wrist while sleeping.
Sometimes, if severe compression is occurring on the median nerve, it may be causing nerve damage or muscle wasting that requires further treatment.
The treating doctor may recommend surgery if CTS is severe and if non-surgical treatments do not help. Surgical treatment of CTS does appear to have the best outcome. Studies have shown that 6 to 12 months after surgery, CTS improves more than it would with just a splint or some other non-surgical treatment.
CTS surgery involves cutting the ligament that presses on the median nerve. After surgery, the ligament slowly grows back, leaving more room for the nerve.
The two types of surgery available for CTS are:
- Open surgery: The surgeon makes a single incision over the palm side of the wrist. They will then make a cut through the ligament to release the pressure on the nerve.
- Endoscopic surgery: The surgeon passes an endoscope, a small scope-like device with a tiny, attached camera, through small incisions in the wrist area to cut the ligament.
A person might feel less pain in the days or weeks following endoscopic surgery than a person who has just had open surgery. However, no long-term differences are noticeable between the two methods.
Avoid activities that might put a strain on the wrist after surgery until recovery is complete. Recovery may take a few weeks to several months.
Some people may need to change jobs or to adjust occupational duties to recover from CTS or after CTS surgery. With appropriate treatment, a return of CTS is rare, and most people recover completely.
While certain exercises, stretches, and certain lifestyle measures can help reduce pressure and strain on the wrist in mild or even moderate presentations, none of them are a proven replacement for medical treatment when considering carpal tunnel syndrome.
These measures, especially resting the hand, can certainly help following surgery in people with severe symptoms.
However, if persistent pain, numbness, and tingling occur on the palm side of the wrist, seek medical attention.
Can carpal tunnel syndrome ever lead to the loss of an arm?
Complications of carpal tunnel syndrome are uncommon but can include muscle weakness at the base of the thumb. No research exists to suggest that a person might experience the loss of an arm due to carpal tunnel syndrome.Gerhard Whitworth, RN Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.