A doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to treat symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). They are available in both oral and injectable forms to help reduce swelling. Pain relief medication may also help.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a term for pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. Medications may help reduce the severity of symptoms. However, some people may be able to manage mild carpal tunnel syndrome at home without medication.

This article explains the role of medications in CTS treatment.

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Oral and injectable corticosteroid medications can help reduce CTS symptoms and relieve swelling around the nerve.

Pain relief medication can also help a person manage pain associated with CTS.

Corticosteroid injections

A doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections for CTS. This injection is a mixture of 20–40 milligrams (mg) of methylprednisolone with 1% lidocaine.

According to a 2023 article, the injections can provide symptom relief for around 3 months, but doctors should only administer the injections into the same wrist once every 6 months.

The adverse effects of methylprednisolone might include:

  • worsening nerve compression
  • accidental injection directly into the nerves
  • tendon rupture

A person can discuss the possible benefits and risks of a corticosteroid injection with their doctor to determine if it is the right treatment for them.

Oral corticosteroids

A short course of oral corticosteroids is an option for people who are not comfortable receiving an injection. A doctor will typically prescribe 20 mg of prednisone daily for 10–14 days.

However, doctors may discourage using steroids for longer due to the risk of:

  • infection
  • high blood sugar levels
  • low potassium levels
  • adrenal gland problems
  • pancreas issues

Taking oral prednisone for a short period might also cause the following side effects:

  • unwanted weight gain
  • digestion problems
  • disturbed sleep
  • restlessness
  • excessive sweating
  • mild mood shifts

Pain relief medication

While pain relief medication cannot directly treat CTS, it may provide short-term pain relief.

A person can ask their pharmacist or doctor about ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and other pain relievers that may be beneficial for managing pain.

Learn about what CTS pain feels like.

A glucocorticoid injection can be the first line of treatment for CTS.

However, some medical professionals recommend splinting as the first-line treatment before suggesting medications. Glucocorticoid injections may relieve symptoms more quickly than splinting but have a similar long-term effect on reducing pain.

A doctor may also recommend other forms of conservative management before medications, such as doing targeted wrist exercises and adjusting daily activities to reduce wrist strain.

Pain relief medications may also help make movement more comfortable, which might support recovery.

Many doctors recommend corticosteroid injections for CTS if conservative treatments are not successful. They may suggest trying a wrist splint for several months before prescribing corticosteroids.

Doctors may treat mild CTS with corticosteroid injections early in the disease progression. CTS commonly gets worse without treatment, and corticosteroids may provide long-term symptom relief. These injections can also provide temporary relief for severe CTS.

A doctor may refer a person with CTS for surgery, depending on how severe their condition is and how they respond to nonsurgical treatments. This procedure is called carpal tunnel release.

During carpal tunnel release, the surgeon cuts the ligament at the top of the carpal tunnel, increasing the size of the tunnel to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Nighttime symptoms usually resolve within a week of surgery. It may take several months for a person to fully regain grip and pinch strength and find long-term relief from numbness and tingling.

A 2023 review of nine studies involving 639 people found that receiving corticosteroid injections for mild to moderate CTS possibly reduced the need for surgery after a year of follow-up.

A 2023 review concluded that up to one-third of people with CTS improve spontaneously without treatment. Home remedies can help a person manage symptoms, improve comfort, and reduce the impact of CTS on their quality of life while they recover.

Learn about home remedies for CTS.

A splint is usually helpful for relieving nighttime carpal tunnel symptoms. It prevents a person from bending their wrist while they sleep.

By keeping the wrist in a neutral position, a splint can reduce pressure on the median nerve.

Here are some frequently asked questions about CTS.

What is the best medication for carpal tunnel syndrome?

According to a 2023 review, glucocorticoids, a type of corticosteroid, are the gold standard for treating carpal tunnel syndrome. They may help people with CTS improve hand function, support how the nerve carries signals, and reduce the need for surgery.

What is the first line of treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome?

The first line of treatment for CTS is often conservative management of symptoms through night splinting, targeted exercises, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications where necessary.

A person may also need to reduce the amount of activities they do that put pressure on the median nerve, such as playing an instrument.

Some doctors may also recommend corticosteroids to treat early CTS.

Can a person self-treat carpal tunnel syndrome?

For mild cases of CTS, a person can try home remedies to relieve symptoms. These include splinting, doing exercises, and avoiding movements or activities that worsen symptoms. In some cases, CTS can spontaneously resolve. However, if symptoms persist or worsen, it is best to seek medical advice.

What can be mistaken for carpal tunnel syndrome?

Many different disorders of the muscles, bones, and nervous system have symptoms similar to CTS, such as overuse injury, nerve disorders, neuropathies, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, motor neuron disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Medications can help treat carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). These can include oral corticosteroids and injections of corticosteroids such as methylprednisolone. They can reduce swelling around the nerve.

They often relieve symptoms for 3 months. People should not receive more than one injection in each wrist every 6 months.

Although a doctor may recommend corticosteroid medications at diagnosis, they may first suggest conservative treatments, including splinting, targeted exercises, pain relief medication, and lifestyle adjustments. If they do not relieve symptoms enough, doctors may suggest corticosteroids. In severe cases, carpal tunnel release surgery may be necessary.