Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is characterized by numbness, tingling, or weakness in the hands. It’s caused by compression that occurs when a major nerve in the wrist – the median nerve – is pinched due to long-term repetitive movements or fluid retention. Typing, playing musical instruments, and manual labor are frequently to blame. Mild CTS may be improved through home remedies, so we’ve compiled a list of lifestyle changes that could be beneficial.
A splint keeps the wrist in a straight, neutral position, relieving pressure on the median nerve. Since CTS symptoms are often worse at night, it can be helpful to wear a splint to bed. Wearing the splint while performing repetitive tasks is useful, too. One caveat here – flimsy splints do more harm than good. They can allow the wrist to move, force it into a stressful position, or cause nerve compression. Going to the doctor for a splint is a safer option than buying one from a pharmacy or sports store.
To reduce inflammation and swelling, an ice pack can be wrapped in a thin cloth and placed on the wrist and forearm for 5-15 minutes, 2-3 times per day. Another option is using an ice bath for 10-15 minutes, once or twice an hour. According to some experts, icing slows blood flow and stiffens muscles and tendons, so massaging the area after icing will stimulate blood flow and keep muscle fibers supple.
Applying heat is frequently suggested as a way to reduce pain. One method is to place your hands in warm water (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit) 3-4 times per day, then gently extend and flex them. Using heat is mildly controversial; some doctors advise against it, arguing that heat worsens CTS by causing tissues to swell.
Stay in shape with regular exercise and physical activity.
Relaxing your grip while writing or driving eases CTS, as does tapping keys more lightly while typing. Find tools that are designed to work with less force and that have better grips and handles. Soft-grip pens are a great example.
- Mini Breaks
Fatigue in joints or muscles is a warning sign to change posture or movement patterns. Stop and wiggle your fingers, stretch your hands, and move your wrists to improve blood flow. Avoid holding objects in the same way for too long, and take breaks on a regular schedule such as 1-2 minutes every 20-30 minutes, or 10-15 minutes every hour or two.
CTS symptoms frequently occur at night because lying down causes fluid to be redistributed throughout the body, resulting in more fluid in the wrists. Your sleeping position contributes as well; avoid sleeping with your wrists bent or tucked under your head or pillow. When night pain occurs, try shaking your wrists or hanging them over the side of the bed.
- Power Tools
Avoid using vibrating power tools such as jackhammers, sanders, chainsaws, and drills. If that’s not possible, operate tools at the speed that causes the least amount of vibration. Anti-vibration products are useful, too.
Elevate your hands and wrists. This is especially effective if CTS symptoms are caused by pregnancy, fractures, or other issues involving fluid retention.
When holding onto something, use the largest joints possible to avoid stress on the wrists, hands, and fingers. Grip using the whole palm and hand, not just the thumb, index, and middle finger; this common tendency puts pressure on the wrist and irritates tendons.
Rotate tasks to use different muscles and avoid doing the same job for more than a few hours at a time. Rotation has other benefits, as well; it reduces job stress and minimizes production losses.
Alternate hands to give your dominant side a break.
- Quit Smoking
In addition to all the other benefits derived from quitting smoking, it also helps with CTS. Smoking inhibits circulation to all parts of the body, including the wrists and hands.
- Lose Weight
Excess weight compresses the median nerve, so keeping weight between five and ten pounds of the ideal number is best.
Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet.
Gentle stretches can help relieve pressure. Try making a fist and then straightening your fingers, 5-10 times per day. Do gentle hand, wrist, and finger stretches. Because of its dual focus on strengthening and stretching, yoga can be particularly beneficial in reducing pain and improving grip. Other hand therapy techniques can be learned from a physical or occupational therapist.
Staying warm helps with pain and stiffness. Fingerless gloves and hand warmers are great ways to maintain warmth.
Don’t round your shoulders forward; it sets off a chain reaction leading to CTS symptoms. Stand straight, not hunched over.
Rest your fingers, hands, and wrists. Stop any activities that seem to be contributing to CTS. Gradually resume the activity only after symptoms improve.
Create an ergonomic office setup. Use an ergonomic keyboard and mouse that allow your wrists to be more neutral. A padded wrist rest avoids the pressure created by resting wrists on the sharp edge of a desk while typing. Place your computer screen at eye level, and have the keyboard at elbow height or slightly below so you can keep your wrists in a straight line with your forearms.
Wear work gloves to protect your hands and wrists.
Massage your wrists, palms, and the backs of your hands. Even better, have someone do it for you.
- Alternative Treatments
Try alternative treatments such as chiropractic or acupuncture. They provide relief for some sufferers.
Over the counter medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen may help with joint pain and inflammation. For some people, a topical menthol such as Biofreeze provides relief. Natural anti-inflammatory compounds such as turmeric and omega-3 can be beneficial for mild cases of CTS.
Because early diagnosis and treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the best way to avoid permanent nerve damage, it’s essential to see a doctor if symptoms don’t resolve after two weeks of self-care and home remedies. If symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily activities, don’t hesitate to seek medical assistance. Common treatment options include surgery and injections of corticosteroids.