A person may be able to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) with strategies such as using ergonomic devices and avoiding activities that can cause wrist strain.

CTS occurs when the median nerve in the hand is compressed.

There is usually a small amount of pressure on this nerve, which increases when a person causes wrist extension or flexion with their hand movements.

If too much pressure repeatedly occurs, this can cause swelling, damage to the nerve’s myelin cover, and disrupted blood flow. These issues can contribute to CTS.

This article discusses ways to prevent CTS, signs of CTS, when to see a doctor, and frequently asked questions.

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Ergonomics refers to assessing the physical demands of a task and modifying the tools and environment to suit the user better. When applied successfully, ergonomics can reduce the chance of injury.

These types of modifications can reduce the wrist strain that leads to CTS.

Keyboard location is an example of ergonomics. Positioning a keyboard so that the user’s forearms are parallel to the floor allows them to type with minimal or no wrist flexion.

Using specially designed keyboards or mice is another example of ergonomics that may help prevent CTS.

Avoiding wrist strain may prevent CTS from occurring. It can also ease symptoms of existing CTS.

Ways to lessen potential wrist strain include:

  • minimizing repetitive hand movements
  • reducing wrist flexion
  • keeping hands in a straight line with the arms during hand-use activities
  • taking frequent breaks
  • avoiding the use of excessive grip strength

Wrist splints or braces can help relieve the early symptoms of CTS and prevent the condition from worsening by holding the wrist in a neutral position.

Splints are helpful during sleep when a person is unaware of their hand positioning. They may also help during daytime activities that typically involve a lot of wrist movement.

Avoiding occupational exposure to vibration, such as hand-arm vibration (HAV), may help prevent CTS. HAV is a potential health hazard to a person who works in an occupation that involves the repetitive use of vibrating tools.

HAV increases pressure on the median nerve because it causes tissue enlargement within the carpal tunnel. It also causes nerve swelling.

A 2022 study examining HAV and CTS found that younger males had the highest risk of this type of occupational CTS. Possible reasons include a higher cumulative HAV exposure, as well as increased grip strength on hand-held tools.

Injury avoidance is another CTS preventive measure a person can take.

CTS can result from wrist injuries that cause swelling, such as fractures or sprains.

A person may be more likely to develop CTS if they have the following medical conditions:

Other medical conditions that increase the risk of CTS include:

Getting treatment for these conditions may prevent CTS from occurring.

For people seeking relief from CTS symptoms, performing exercises alongside bracing or splinting may help reduce the pressure on the median nerve and prevent symptoms from worsening.

To avoid worsening or causing new symptoms, it is important to get exercise instructions from a doctor or physical therapist.

A person can try performing wrist exercises for 3–4 weeks under the guidance of a physical therapist.

Signs of CTS include:

  • numbness, burning, tingling, and pain affecting the thumb and fingers of the hand, primarily the index, middle, and ring finger
  • shock-like sensations in the hand
  • weakness in the hand

Symptoms typically begin gradually and can initially come and go. However, the symptoms begin to occur more often as the condition worsens.

The pain may ease when a person shakes their hands or wrist.

It is common to experience CTS symptoms during the night as people are likely to sleep with their wrists bent. This can cause symptoms that wake a person up.

Persistent symptoms of CTS require contacting a doctor.

In some cases, CTS can resolve without treatment. However, if a person experiences signs of persistent CTS, getting timely medical care can prevent irreversible nerve damage.

The following are three frequently asked questions about carpal tunnel syndrome.

Can a person stop the progression of carpal tunnel syndrome?

If a person monitors their symptoms and takes prompt action to seek medical care, they may be able to prevent CTS from progressing.

Is carpal tunnel syndrome permanent?

Without treatment, CTS worsens over time for most people. If treatment is delayed too long, permanent nerve damage can occur.

Is it possible to reverse carpal tunnel syndrome?

If doctors can intervene before the onset of permanent nerve damage, there are treatments that may reverse CTS. These include wrist splints, specialized exercises, and carpal tunnel release surgery.

If enough repeated pressure is applied to the median nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, a person can experience the numbness and tingling associated with CTS.

CTS can self-resolve, but if symptoms persist and are left untreated, permanent nerve damage can occur.

Measures to prevent CTS from occurring or progressing include ergonomics, splinting, exercise, and rest.