Carpal tunnel is lousy.
Perhaps before you experienced carpal tunnel syndrome, you imagined it was slight uncomfortability when typing or performing repetitive stress motions.
And then it arrived.
(With more baggage than an unwelcome houseguest.)
Pain radiating throughout your hands and wrists. A numbness upon waking. Loss of sensation, and the accompanying inability to engage in once-beloved hobbies, like texting with friends or knitting. Carpal tunnel symptoms are no joke, and can turn everyday activities into a chore.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve (a nerve in your wrist) is compressed, usually due to inflammation closing the carpal tunnel (the narrow passage where the median nerve lives). Sometimes, carpal tunnel can go away on its own. Many women experience carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, which tends to resolve after birth. Others have flare ups, or notice it worsens in cold or humid weather.
Happily, there are a few easy things you can do at home to address this irritating condition.
1. Stretch & Exercise Your Hands
There are a number of hand and wrist exercises that can help manage carpal tunnel pain and numbness.
Stretching is an excellent way to start the day, but it’s also something you can easily do while sitting at a desk or on a break.
A popular carpal tunnel stretch involves carefully stretching the hands and wrists.
Extend your arms in front of you, like you are a zombie or about to do the macarena (If you don’t remember the macarena, you probably aren’t old enough to feel your body crumble before you). Point your hands toward the floor, and gently push the back of your hand toward your body with the opposite hand, while keeping your arm extended. Repeat this with your palm facing out and pulling your fingers back.
Another helpful stretch is stretching your fingers. Open your hands wide, stretching out the fingers, then close them in a fist as tight as is comfortable. Repeat as often as needed.
2. Wear a Brace or Gloves
One of the most popular home remedies for carpal tunnel is a wrist brace. This helps to stabilize the wrist, and reduce the inflammation that causes carpal tunnel. Comfortable compression gloves are another great option, and can be worn during the day while typing or working. If you are unable to wear the brace or gloves during the day, simply wearing them overnight can dramatically reduce your discomfort.
3. Check Your Diet
We all wish we could eat like we were 19 again, but our bodies are just rude that way. Since carpal tunnel is mainly caused by inflammation, avoiding salty and high-fat foods is an easy way to reduce swelling. Stick to fruits, greens, and high protein foods like meat and fish. As a bonus, eating better is going to make you feel better overall, not just in your hands!
(But you should still have that sweet treat once in a while - you deserve it!).
4. Rest, Ice, & Elevate
You may remember your doctor or your mama or both telling you to RICE an injury when you sprained your ankle getting up too quickly after falling asleep in your AP U.S. History class (or something less wholly embarrassing).
RICE stands for REST/ICE/COMPRESSION/ELEVATION, and it can be key when dealing with certain types of inflammation. Hot news, this includes carpal tunnel!
If your wrists and hands are numb or sore, and you’re able to relax and elevate them above your heart, that can provide some welcome relief. Some sufferers even sleep with their hands elevated on pillows to reduce the uncomfortable swelling. In addition, ice packs used on the hands for 20 minute intervals can reduce the pain and swelling and allow you to get back to your daily activities.
Additionally, find time to rest your hands! Resting repairs tired muscles and ligaments, so take breaks as needed. Many workplaces offer accommodations for repetitive stress injuries, and stopping to stretch or relax your hands for a few minutes each hour can go a long way toward making you feel better. We know not every job allows for breaks, but if you can carve out some time in the evening, on your commute, or while that frozen pizza is baking in the oven to rest your hands, it will go a long way toward relieving some of the pain.
5. Over-the-Counter Medication
Yes, seeing a doctor for steroids, injections, or even surgery can be useful options if carpal tunnel is severely affecting your quality of life. However, for at-home management, there are over-the-counter medication options. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can provide some much-needed relief, and some people have success with aspirin as well. Just make sure to check with your doctor for dosing information.
And there you are! 5 easy ways to combat carpal tunnel at home. As always, check with your doctor for other appropriate assistance, and hopefully you’ll be back to the original you in no time!
Author: Jess Krzyczkowski
Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ben Frederick