In this article, we’ll explore how certain exercises, OTC pain relievers, splinting, and more may improve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. We’ll also discuss how to know when you should see a medical provider.
Some carpal tunnel exercises and stretches can help to improve symptoms and improve movement. In most cases, doing the exercises on your own at home can help, although in more severe cases, a medical provider may suggest working with a physical therapist.
Some exercises to try for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Rotating the wrist up and down and side to side. This should be done slowly in a controlled motion, and repeated several times.
- Stretching the fingers apart and pulling the thumb gently back.
- Folding the hands together, as in a prayer or gratitude pose, while raising and lowering them. Repeat this several times.
- Extend the wrist downward, as if doing wrist curls with a hand weight. Slowly bring it back to an inward position and repeat several times at a controlled pace.
When stretching or doing wrist exercises for carpal tunnel, be careful to avoid pain. The stretches should be felt, but should not trigger pain or be uncomfortable. If you are not able to stretch or exercise the wrist or hands without pain, consult a medical provider.
Similar to wrist exercises, stretching the tendons of the wrists and lower arm can improve symptom relief of carpal tunnel. To do this, form a fist. Slowly extend fingers until they are straight, even with the palm. Repeat 5-10 times at a controlled pace. You can also do this by hanging your forearm, palm down, from a tabletop or flat surface, so that the arm dangles. Bend the wrist, form a fist, and gently move the hand upward. Lower the hand while relaxing the fist. Repeat 8-10 times.
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome and have to continue using the hand or wrist, a splint could help reduce pain and symptoms. Carpal tunnel tends to worsen throughout the day, the more the hands and wrists are used, so wearing a splint in the afternoon or evening could help. You can also try using a splint while sleeping. If you use your hands or wrists a lot during the day for work tasks, wearing one while on the job could help, too.
It can help to consciously remind yourself to be gentle while completing tasks that involve your hands or wrists. Some people type with force, press down hard on paper while they write, or otherwise expend more energy from the wrist or hand than they realize. By consciously decreasing the use of the affected hand, you may improve symptoms more quickly.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be effective for relieving carpal tunnel related pain. Ibuprofen Examples of OTC NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) help to reduce inflammation, which can help to decrease symptoms associated with carpal tunnel. Before starting NSAIDs, ask your medical provider if you have any conditions that could be negatively affected by taking them. It’s also important to check for other drug interactions. When taking NSAIDs, be sure to follow dosage instructions carefully.
Topical Pain Cream
If OTC oral pain relievers are not effective or you need more immediate relief, topical pain cream with menthol as an active ingredient could help to reduce nerve pain and make it easier to use the hand or wrist. Topical pain cream is available in most pharmacies and drug stores. It is sold under the brand name Biofreeze, as well as store brands or other products that contain menthol. Biofreeze can be used 3-4 times per day.
Acupuncture or Acupressure
Both acupuncture and acupressure rely on specific body points to relieve pain. Acupuncture stimulates them with tiny needles, while acupressure uses massage. Both types of therapy can support carpal tunnel pain relief. In a small study, acupuncture outperformed placebo, splinting, and nutritional supplementation with B vitamins.
Only acupuncture showed effective symptom relief. A small double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical study found that acupressure was also effective for reducing carpal tunnel severity. Acupressure was also able to improve hand function.If you want to try acupuncture or acupressure for carpal tunnel relief, make sure to consult a licensed acupuncturist.
While yoga may support carpal tunnel relief in the same way that general stretching or wrist exercises could, there is little evidence that yoga specifically can treat or prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
Warm Water Therapy
Carpal tunnel often comes with both pain and stiffness. Immersing the affected wrist in warm water and stretching can support mobility and flexion. This exercise can be repeated 3-4 times per day. Be sure that the water is warm, between 92-100ºF (33-37ºC), but not too hot. Cold can also worsen carpal tunnel symptoms. Keeping your hands warm with gloves, hand warmers, or working in a warmer space can also improve symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory benefits. Some studies have considered whether fish oil supplements could reduce inflammation and improve carpal tunnel. Older research noted promising benefits for fish oil and neuropathic pain, which could include carpal tunnel syndrome. Newer research also demonstrates that fish oil might be able to support good sensory health in peripheral nerves, but the quality of evidence was limited and more direct clinical trials need to be conducted to have a definitive answer.
Carpal tunnel syndrome has been associated with vitamin D deficiency. Research confirms that supplementing with vitamin D3 can decrease pain, improve mobility, and increase sensory nerve function in carpal tunnel syndrome. The main problem with vitamin D3 for carpal tunnel syndrome is that there is no standardized treatment dose or duration of supplementation, so medical providers must use their judgment to determine the best course of action for patients.
When to See a Medical Provider
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be uncomfortable. If home remedies do not improve symptoms, or they continue to worsen, see a medical provider. You may need to have a physical examination to determine that your symptoms are coming from carpal tunnel and not another peripheral nerve condition. Less commonly, central nervous system disorders like multiple sclerosis can cause hand or finger numbness that may be mistaken for carpal tunnel syndrome.
After an appropriate history and physical, a medical provider may refer you to a specialist, if needed, or order additional imaging or tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
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Acupuncture in treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial study. (2012).
The effects of acupressure on the symptoms severity and function status and electrodiagnostic findings in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. (2020).
Exercise and mobilisation interventions for carpal tunnel syndrome. (2012).
Omega-3 fatty acids for neuropathic pain: case series. (2010).
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid oral supplements for improving peripheral nerve health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (2020).
The effects of vitamin D supplementation in carpal tunnel syndrome treatment outcomes: a systematic review. (2021).
Upper limb entrapment neuropathies in multiple sclerosis. (2020).