When you have the wrist or hand pain and tingling of carpal tunnel syndrome, it may seem like surgery is the only answer. But there are measures you can take to either avoid or postpone surgery and still have good quality of life.

See What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the hand and wrist.
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Distinctive Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

1. Give wrists a rest
One of the risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive or extreme wrist motion, so simply resting the wrists and keeping them in a neutral position as much as possible can ease pain and numbness.

See Causes and Risk Factors for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

2. Use a wrist brace
Bracing the wrist is one of the most reliable ways to stabilize the wrist and ease carpal tunnel pain. When selecting a brace, choose a structured, firm option that will immobilize the wrist, as opposed a flexible one made of neoprene or elastic.

See Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

3. Elevate hands, especially during sleep
Elevating the hands and wrists can help ease inflammation, particularly at night. This can be done by sleeping on your back and propping your wrists up on pillows. Since keeping your arms straight can also help, try wrapping a towel or ace bandage around your elbows.

4. Make your work station ergonomic
Although repetitive wrist motion isn’t a proven cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, it can raise risk for the condition. So to maintain a good neutral position for your wrist despite using a computer all day, make sure your keyboard and mouse are at the right height to keep your wrists straight. You may also want to use wrist rests in front of your mousepad or keyboard.

5. Ask about job rotation
If your job involves activities such as repetitive assembly line work, talk with your employer about the possibility of rotating tasks to give your wrists and hands a rest.

6. Try ice therapy
One of the best ways to decrease carpal tunnel inflammation and dull pain signals is to use cold therapy on your wrist. Cold therapy sessions can last up to 15 to 20 minutes, and don’t forget to use a towel or cloth to protect your skin.

See The P.R.I.C.E. Protocol Principles

7. Do wrist exercises
Some people with carpal tunnel syndrome feel that it’s helpful to their symptoms to do wrist exercises. Here are a few examples of exercises you can try:

  1. Make a fist with your hand, then slowly straighten and fan out your fingers. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
  2. Hold your arm out straight, palm down. Bend your hand until your fingers are pointed downward. Use your other hand to exert a gentle pressure on the back of your hand for 20 seconds. Then switch hands.

8. Take NSAID medications
Anti-inflammatory pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Alieve) can help ease the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. Take as directed, and ask your physician or pharmacist if you have questions about interactions or side effects.

See Acute Injury: Additional Treatment Considerations

9. Talk with your doctor
Physicians can offer a few nonsurgical medical treatments that have been proven to help carpal tunnel syndrome, including:

  • Oral corticosteroids such as prednisone
  • Cortisone (steroid) injections into the carpal tunnel

See Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Ask your physician if one of these may be right for you.

10. Keep your hands warm
Cold conditions can lead to stiffness and exacerbate carpal tunnel syndrome pain. Keep your hands warm with fingerless gloves, particularly if you work in a cold environment.

11. Try acupuncture
Some studies have shown the acupuncture can help with the pain and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Look for a licensed acupuncturist with experience treating carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you try these self-care techniques but they fail to bring relief, keep in mind the surgical procedure for carpal tunnel syndrome, known as carpal tunnel release, has a high success rate.

See Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome