How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?

Treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome begin with over-the-counter or prescription strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Another option is a wrist splint or a carpal tunnel splint, which is usually used only at night to prevent the wrist from being held in a hyperextended or hyperflexed posture. The next step up would be a trial injection of a combination of corticosteroids. This is a powerful local anti-inflammatory with local anesthetic that is injected into the carpal tunnel.

Surgery is an option for treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome if all conservative measures have failed to relieve the symptoms. The results of treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome depend largely on how severely the nerve has been compressed and the duration of that compression. Most people experience at least a 90 percent improvement in their symptoms.

Treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Apply moist heat twice daily to the affected areas.
  • Avoid the repetitive activity.
  • Use a splint on the affected wrist(s).
  • If the above result in no relief, talk to your doctor about a local injection or simple outpatient surgical procedure.

To ease the discomfort if you have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), immobilize your wrist with a splint when you can, including during sleep. Also, take anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin, and ice your wrist morning and night. If the problem persists, noninvasive endoscopic surgery can open up the tunnel and relieve symptoms. Most people recover completely and never have the problem again.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is typically either treated with a conservative or surgical approach. Conservative treatment includes wearing a splint to keep the wrist in a neutral position, hot and cold compresses, strengthening exercises for the wrist flexors and extensors, anti-inflammatories, and modifying activity or improving ergonomics.

A carpal tunnel release is used to surgically treat carpal tunnel syndrome. In this procedure, the surgeon will typically cut the ligament that is compressing the nerve. This releases the pressure and is successful most of the time, depending on how long the nerve has been compressed.

This answer provided for NATA by the Indiana University Athletic Training Education Program.

Dr. Rachel S. Rohde, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Conservative treatment includes eliminating contributory factors, whether medical or behavioral. Activity modification can be helpful. Contrary to popular belief, the latest research suggests that people who type more actually have a lower incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome! Your positioning at your desk, however, can make a big difference. You want to make sure that your wrists are in "neutral" and that you are not leaning your palm (or forearm) on anything while you type.

Wearing wrist splints at night can help relieve night symptoms. Corticosteroid injections that decrease inflammation around the nerve can help your hand surgeon with the diagnosis or, in limited situations, can treat symptoms.

Surgical release of the carpal tunnel by cutting the ligament overlying the nerve and tendons in the palm of the hand enlarges the tunnel and decreases the pressure on the nerve. Soreness in the palm can last for weeks to a few months. Numbness and tingling can disappear quickly or slowly, but resolution of night symptoms usually occurs first. Strength in the hand and wrist can take a few months to return to normal. It is important to note that symptoms might not go away completely after surgery, especially in severe cases.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome depends on how severe your symptoms are. For some people, adjusting their daily activities, especially at work, can help stop symptoms. This may include taking breaks to rest your hands more often, adjusting the position of your computer keyboard, and occasionally icing your wrists to treat any swelling. Wearing a wrist splint-especially at night-may be helpful. In some cases, a doctor may inject your wrist with a corticosteroid, which is a drug that reduces swelling. If symptoms are severe or have lasted for longer than a few months, surgery may be the best treatment.

Dr. David A. Cautilli, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

There are many ways to treat carpal tunnel syndrome. The mildest cases can be treated with wrist bracing or activity modification. Sometimes some therapeutic exercises are required and sometimes cortisone injections in the carpal tunnel can also be effective. In some cases, an operation may be necessary to relieve the pressure on the carpal tunnel.

Carpal tunnel surgery is like a lot of other surgeries in that it’s minimally invasive. With this type of surgery, doctors make smaller incisions, destroy less tissue, and people generally have a faster recovery and less pain than ever before. The recovery phase is not terribly long for most people. If you work at a desk job or something that's less strenuous, you may be back to work with a small bandage on your hand just a few days after surgery. If you're a laborer, it may be up to four to six weeks before you can grasp and lift heavy objects.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.