Carpal tunnel syndrome often starts at night when people sleep with their wrists in a flexed position. You might wake up feeling like you need to shake your wrist. Or, you could feel a burning or tingling sensation in your thumb or fingers. Some people feel numbness.
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, it means that your median nerve is getting pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The carpal tunnel—a narrow passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand—houses the median nerve and the tendons that bend the fingers, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
It’s best to start treatment early to avoid permanent nerve damage. Fortunately, many people find relief with conservative, non-surgical treatments. If these don’t work, then more invasive strategies might be needed.
Here are five common non-surgical treatments that often work for carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Wear a night splint. This helps keep your wrist in a neutral position.
- Avoiding activities that make your pain worse. Make sure your workstation allows you to keep your wrists neutral as you type. Apply an ice pack to ease pain if needed.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. In some patients, drugs can ease the pain and swelling associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonprescription pain relievers, may provide short-term relief from discomfort. They won’t treat carpal tunnel syndrome but they can make you feel better.
- Steroid injections. Corticosteroids can be injected directly into the wrist to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
- Take up yoga. Yoga has shown to reduce pain and improve grip strength among people with carpal tunnel syndrome.
If conservative treatment measures don’t work, then surgery may be necessary. Carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States, according to federal health statistics. During surgery, an orthopaedic surgeon cuts the ligament around the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve. Surgery is usually done under local or regional anesthesia. It does not require an overnight hospital stay.