Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Pain and Treatment

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Pain and Treatment

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Your physical therapist may give you exercises to improve your grip.

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Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common nerve entrapment disorder, affecting 3.8 percent of people according to a 2012 review published in "Open Orthopaedics Journal." It can cause hand pain that sometimes extends up the arm to your shoulder. Carpal tunnel is usually treated with conservative treatments, such a medication, splints and physical therapy. If these treatments do not work, surgery may be an option.


Pain on the palm of the hand, thumb, index and middle finger is often one of the first symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The pain frequently extends into the forearm and may shoot up to your shoulder, if left untreated.

Nighttime pain is common with carpal tunnel syndrome. It may be so excruciating it wakes you up. Shaking your hand often temporarily relieves this pain. Pain from carpal tunnel syndrome can have a profound effect, keeping you from working and doing simple activities, such as cooking, combing your hair and brushing your teeth.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Your doctor may initially recommend resting your hand for a few weeks to treat carpal tunnel syndrome. A wrist splint may be prescribed to immobilize your wrist and keep it in a position that does not stress or aggravate the compressed nerve.

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), are frequently used to help ease pain and reduce inflammation. Your doctor may give you a corticosteroid injection to reduce inflammation in the wrist. This leads to reduced swelling in the carpal tunnel and can provide rapid, temporary relief of pain and symptoms.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help increase hand strength and reduce pain. Your therapist may recommend strengthening exercises to help build grip strength. Simple exercises, such as squeezing a stress ball repeatedly, can improve your grip strength. Hand massage, added to splint use and exercise, may help reduce carpal tunnel syndrome pain by relaxing the affected muscles and nerve.

Your physical therapist may perform a wrist stretching technique, called neural mobilization, in which she repeatedly stretches your wrist to the point where you feel the symptoms. These stretches are intended to help the nerve in the wrist that causes carpal tunnel syndrome move more freely, potentially reducing symptoms.


If symptoms do not improve with approximately 6 months of conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend carpal tunnel release surgery. This surgery involves cutting the transverse carpal ligament, which consists of fibrous tissue making up the roof of the carpal tunnel. Cutting this ligament increases space in the carpal tunnel and relieves pressure on the compressed nerve. According to a review published in 2012 in "The Open Orthopaedics Journal," 70 to 90 percent of people who undergo carpal tunnel release have good to excellent long-term outcomes.


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