Managing painful carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can make even small tasks a challenge. Your hands may be so numb that it seems impossible to button up your shirt. And because it hurts to type, dashing off a quick email response takes much longer than you’d like. You may even give up favorite hobbies like knitting, basketball and cooking since these activities can make your hands hurt even more.
The good news is that there are things you can do at home to help your hands. Below, we share effective home remedies for managing carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, and when you should talk to a hand specialist about other treatment options.
8 home remedies for managing carpal tunnel syndrome
The goal of most home remedies for carpal tunnel syndrome is to naturally reduce inflammation and swelling of the tendons in your wrist. Swollen wrist tendons can push down on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel, a narrow channel in your wrist that’s surrounded by bones.
If your median nerve is under pressure, you may have symptoms such as numbness, tingling, pain and weakened grip in your thumb and index, middle or ring finger.
Home remedies for carpal tunnel syndrome are more likely to help if you've had only mild to moderate symptoms. If you have more serious symptoms, it’s usually best to work with a hand specialist who can identify the best treatments for you.
1. Behavioral changes
It may be possible to reduce or eliminate your symptoms simply by changing the tools you use or how you use them.
- Pay attention to your wrists – Watch how you hold your wrists as you perform activities. Try to keep your wrist from bending too much in any direction.
- Take regular breaks – If you’re using your hands a lot throughout the day, take a break every 15 minutes or so to stretch your hands and wiggle your fingers. This can improve blood flow to the area, reducing numbness and pain.
- Reduce the pressure – Look for ways to lessen the pressure of routine activities. Try to avoid firm and repetitive gripping of objects.
2. Over-the-counter medications
When your hand hurts, you likely reach for a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen to help relieve the pain. And, why not? For occasional aches and pains, NSAIDs are a great choice since they are quick, easy and usually work.
But here’s the thing: These medications aren’t a long-term solution. Taking NSAIDs more than three times a week for more than three months can increase your chances of serious side effects that harm your heart, kidneys and liver. You should also avoid these medications if you have a history of kidney disease, stomach ulcerations or allergies to anti-inflammatory medicine.
3. Topical creams
Using a topical cream can provide instant relief for your symptoms – though the relief may not last that long.
Menthol creams provide a nice cooling sensation that usually lasts about 15-20 minutes. So, you’ll need to reapply throughout the day as needed. Popular brands of menthol creams include Biofreeze and Tiger Balm.
A diclofenac sodium medicated gel (Voltaren) is another option to reduce pain and swelling. It’s made for people with arthritis, but it’s also great if you have carpal tunnel syndrome. The gel works best when used consistently since it can take up to seven days to see results. But it’s possible to have side effects, so make sure to follow the instructions.
4. Ice and heat therapy
What about ice or heat for carpal tunnel? Both can provide temporary relief.
Using ice therapy
Ice therapy is a good way to numb the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s also possible for ice to reduce swelling of the ligaments in your wrist, taking pressure off the median nerve. The relief may last a little while after you’re done icing, but you’ll likely need to ice multiple times during the day for continued relief.
- Icepacks – Cover an icepack with a towel and then wrap it around the base of your wrist (you may need two ice packs to completely cover your wrist). Leave the icepack on for 15-20 minutes.
- Ice bath – Fill a bowl with water and ice and soak your hand for 10-15 minutes.
Using heat therapy
Heat can temporarily help with stiffness and soreness, and usually feels good. Still, it’s unlikely to provide any lasting benefits.
- Heating pad – Place the heating pad around your wrist for up to 30 minutes.
- Hot water bath – Fill a bowl with warm water and soak your hand for up to 30 minutes.
Using both ice and heat therapy
Another option is to incorporate both ice and heat therapy using a contrast bath. For this type of therapy, you’ll need two bowls – one with ice water and the other with warm water. Put your hand in the cold water for two minutes and then switch to the warm water for 30 seconds. Keep switching between the bowls for about 15 minutes.
5. Wearing a carpal tunnel splint (brace)
A carpal tunnel splint holds the wrist in a position that limits the range of motion for the wrist but allows the fingers to move. Wearing a splint at night prevents hand movements that could make your symptoms worse. If worn during the day, a splint can reduce the amount of stress that different activities place on your wrist and give the median nerve a break, giving it time to heal.
It can be tough to wear a splint 24/7, so it’s okay if you need a break. Just try to wear it at night (when symptoms are usually the worst) and as much as you can during the day.
Choosing the best wrist splint for carpal tunnel syndrome
So, what’s the best wrist splint for carpal tunnel syndrome? A lot of that depends on your personal preferences. The most important features of a splint are that it fits well, provides good wrist support, is adjustable and comfortable. But you’ll want to avoid braces that are too soft – if your wrist is able to move or bend, it will take longer for your wrist to get better.
Depending on your needs, you may also want to look for splints that can be used on either wrist, have a built-in heat or icepack, and are machine washable.
6. Managing other medical conditions
Inflammation from conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, obesity and hypothyroidism can make carpal tunnel syndrome worse. By managing these conditions, you may be able to reduce your symptoms. If you need support for your health conditions – or help losing weight – make an appointment with a primary care doctor.
7. Finger, thumb and wrist stretches for carpal tunnel syndrome
Stretching your fingers, wrists, forearms and thumbs may help get rid of your symptoms. But for the best results, you’ll need to do these exercises 5-10 times each day. While this may seem like a lot, once you get used to these stretches, you may be able to do a set of each in less than 10 minutes.
Hand exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome shouldn’t be painful. So, start slowly with a couple exercises a few times a day. It can help to heat your wrist and hands for 15 minutes before doing the exercises. Using ice therapy afterwards can help prevent swelling.
Here are a few exercises you can use to stretch your hands, wrists and forearms:
- “Stop” stretch – Stretch out one arm in front of you with your hand in a “stop” position. Then use your other hand to pull your fingers toward your body and hold for five seconds. You’ll want to feel a good stretch in your fingers, wrist and forearm, but it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Shake out your hand and repeat before doing the exercise on your other hand.
- “Prayer” stretch – Hold the palm of your hands together in front of you with your fingers pointing toward your chin. Lower your hands toward your waist until you feel a stretch in your wrist and forearms. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch 2-4 times.
- Wrist rotations – Rotate your hands at your wrists. Repeat up to four times. This stretch can feel more natural if you bend your arms at the elbow before you start.
- Finger lock – Holding your hands in front of your chest, interlace the fingers from your right and left hands. Then, rotate your wrists so that your palms are facing away from you. Straighten your arms until you feel a stretch in your fingers, wrists and forearms, and then hold the position for five seconds. Release your hands and shake them out. Repeat the exercise.
- Thumb stretching – Pull your thumb as far as you can without causing pain. Hold for five seconds and then release. Then grab your thumb and rotate it several times in each direction. Repeat on the other hand.
If stretching doesn’t seem to be working or you’re looking for more guidance, working with a hand specialist is the best way to get a tailored exercise program to treat your specific symptoms.
Yoga helps to restore balance in your body and reduces tissue inflammation, making it possible for yoga to reduce pain in your hands and wrists.
The best yoga exercises for carpal tunnel tend to be deep stretches of your arms and upper back. This is because carpal tunnel syndrome impacts the tendons and nerves in your hand that are connected to your arm.
Yoga should not hurt. So, if your symptoms are severe, choose exercises that don’t put too much weight on your wrists.
Good yoga poses for stretching your upper body and improving body balance include the cat-cow, upward facing dog, the seated twist and lotus position.
When to see a doctor for carpal tunnel syndrome treatment
You may be able to manage your symptoms at home for a while. But without treatment, your symptoms can get worse. Untreated carpal tunnel syndrome can result in permanent loss of sensation and reduced hand strength. So, it’s a good idea to seek medical help if:
- You’ve had carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms for more than two weeks
- It’s difficult to hold objects or move your hands
- You can’t touch your index finger and thumb together
- Your symptoms are affecting your ability to work
- Your hands are constantly numb during waking hours
- Nighttime symptoms are keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep
- You notice shrinkage or an indentation in the bulging area at the base of your thumb
Carpal tunnel syndrome gets worse over time. If you suddenly lose feeling in your fingers, arm or hand, it could be a sign of a more serious condition. If this happens, call 911 or go to the emergency room right away.
How a hand care specialist can help treat carpal tunnel syndrome
There’s no doubt that getting your carpal tunnel syndrome under control will make your life easier and more enjoyable. A great place to start is with home remedies but, in most cases, you’ll likely need medical treatments for long-term relief.
Your primary care doctor or a hand specialist can both offer guidance about using home treatments to manage your symptoms. But many people prefer to start with a hand specialist since they can provide more specific education and offer additional treatments. You don’t need a referral to see a hand specialist at TRIA.
The experts at TRIA will work with you to understand your pain and develop a plan to help you manage your symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome medical treatments may include:
- Hand therapy to help create new behaviors, restore range of motion, strengthen your hands and reduce pain
- Corticosteroid injections to decrease inflammation and swelling, relieving pressure on the median nerve
- Carpal tunnel syndrome surgery to divide the ligament that presses on the carpal tunnel and create more room for the median nerve and tendons
Whenever you’re wondering why your hand hurts, a hand specialist is a great resource. They can help diagnose what’s wrong with your hand and come up with a personalized treatment plan just for you.