For most people, the key to beating carpal tunnel syndrome is prevention: making changes before CTS becomes a problem. If you're already experiencing some minor tingling, numbness, and burning associated with CTS, you may be able to prevent further damage and promote healing by making a few simple changes in your lifestyle.
The home remedies that follow can help you keep your hands and wrists healthy and help reduce carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. However, if your symptoms are severe (if they interfere with your daily activities, for example), if they don't resolve after two weeks of self-care, or if they are accompanied by fever, swelling, a rash or redness on the wrist, or any loss of function or muscle mass, contact your doctor.
Stay in shape. You'll be less likely to suffer injury if your body's circulation and repair systems work well. Help your body out by eating nutritiously, getting adequate sleep and rest, and exercising regularly. Also, be sure to quit or avoid smoking, which inhibits circulation to all areas of the body, including the wrists and hands.
Don't lose while you snooze. CTS symptoms often come on at night and may wake you up. Some doctors believe this is because the fluid in the body is redistributed when you lie down, so more of it accumulates in the wrist. But another contributing factor may be your sleeping position: You may sleep with your wrist bent and/or tucked under your head or pillow, which can cause compression of the median nerve. So when you settle down for the night, allow your hand or wrist to lie flat on the mattress. You may also want to ask your doctor about a splint (see below).
Take some weight off. Excess weight can compress the median nerve in the wrist, so try to keep your weight within five to ten pounds of your ideal weight by eating a smart diet and getting plenty of exercise. Consult your doctor or a registered dietitian if you're unsure what your ideal weight is or how to achieve it.
Take minibreaks. Fatigue or tiredness in the joints or muscles is a warning sign to change your posture and/or pattern of movement. When your wrist, hand, or fingers feel fatigued or achy, take a break. Shake out your hands, and if possible, get up and walk around or at least stretch out your arms and adjust your position. Even a one- to two-minute break every 20 or 30 minutes helps, as does a longer break (of about 10 to 15 minutes) every hour or two.
Rotate jobs. Experts at the National Safety Council suggest that you rotate between jobs that use different muscles and avoid doing the same task for more than a few hours at a time. If your job doesn't allow rotation, talk with your supervisor or union about a change. Rotation reduces job stress and minimizes production losses, so it can benefit both employer and employee.
Keep it in "neutral." As you work, keep your body and your wrists in a comfortable, neutral position: straight, not bent or hunched over. Check the height of your computer screen (it should be at eye level). Rearrange the level of your keyboard or workstation so that you don't have to strain, reach, or bend your wrists; it should be at elbow height or just slightly below. Your wrists should always be in a straight line with your forearms. And be sure you are not too close to or far away from your work.
Get the right grip on it. Most of us have a tendency to grip with only the thumb, index, and middle fingers, which can increase pressure on the wrist and cause irritation of the corresponding tendons. If you have to grip or twist something, such as the lid of a jar, use your palm or your whole hand to distribute the load.
Alternate hands. Give your dominant hand a break whenever possible. Try using your other hand to do some tasks.
Watch those pressure points. Too often, typists rest their wrists on the sharp edge of a desk or table as they work, which can cause excess pressure on the wrists. Adjust your workstation, if necessary, to keep your wrists straight and off the edge.
Soften up and slow down. It's often powerful, repetitive movements done at high speed that cause carpal tunnel problems. Be mindful as you work, and apply only the force needed to accomplish the task at hand.
Decrease bad vibes. People who use vibrating tools, such as sanders, jackhammers, chisels, chain saws, grinders, riveters, and drills for extended periods appear to be at increased risk of developing wrist problems. If you are one of these folks, take frequent breaks and, when possible, operate the tool at the speed that causes the least vibration.
Go "ergo." Often, carpal tunnel syndrome can be prevented or treated by adopting tools and workstations that have been ergonomically redesigned to cause less stress on the body. Some tools have been designed to work with less force, while others now feature better grips and handles. Some knife manufacturers, for example, have redesigned meat packers' knives so they require less wrist bending. Other companies have created aids, such as wrist rests for computer users and computer keyboards that require a lighter touch, which can prevent or reduce carpal tunnel syndrome problems. Even pens with soft, chubby barrels and smooth flowing ink, which require less pinching and force from the fingers, are now commonplace. So look for items that can ease the strain on your wrists and hands, but be wary of miracle machines and gadgets.
Watch for symptoms, and take action. Stay alert for the earliest signs of carpal tunnel syndrome, such as occasional numbness, burning, tingling, or a pins and needles sensation that wakes you up at night or that occurs or gets worse when you are gripping a newspaper or other object between your fingers. Take preventive and self-care steps immediately. Aching in your lower arms and morning stiffness in your fingers can also be early signals of mild repetitive movement injury.
Ice it. If you have CTS symptoms, reduce swelling and inflammation by placing an ice pack wrapped in a thin cloth on the wrist and forearm for 5 to 15 minutes two or three times a day. At the same time, however, be sure to take steps to eliminate the cause of the trauma to your wrist.
Prohibit heat. While ice can reduce inflammation and swelling, heat can worsen a carpal tunnel problem because it causes the tissues in the narrow passageway to swell.
Nix flimsy splints. A properly fitted wrist splint prescribed by a physician can help relieve CTS and may be especially useful when worn at night to keep the wrist in a neutral (unbent) position. Too often, however, people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms rush to the pharmacy or sporting-goods store for any old wrist splint as a home remedy. But sometimes the home remedy does more harm than good.
If the splint is too flimsy, for example, it can allow the wrist to move, which defeats its purpose. If improperly fitted or worn, it may actually force the wrist into a stressful position and/or cause compression of the median nerve. And, if such splints are worn for too long, the muscles in the wrist area can begin to shrink.
Reach for over-the-counter relief. For minor pain, taking aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen can be helpful, although only the aspirin and ibuprofen can decrease inflammation. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here.
Keep carpal tunnel syndrome in check with exercises and more home remedies that you'll learn about in the next section.
For more information about carpal tunnel syndrome and how to combat it, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Bursitis can manifest symptoms that are very similar to the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. Read Home Remedies for Bursitis to learn how to treat this ache yourself.
- To learn about cures for another potentially debilitating disease, read Home Remedies for Arthritis.
- To learn how to relieve muscle pain in general, try Home Remedies for Muscular Pain.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.