Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment and Pain Management

A wrist brace or splint can help prevent further damage.

Wrist brace for carpal tunnel syndromeTreatment of carpal tunnel syndrome usually begins with resting the hand and wrist for at least two weeks. You should avoid activities that make your symptoms worse.

The doctor may immobilize your wrist in a brace or splint so you do not cause further damage by bending or twisting it. Splints are usually worn at night, to prevent irritation to the median nerve that can occur when you curl your wrists during sleep. You may also be advised to wear a brace or splint during activities that aggravate symptoms, such as sports.  

Applying cool packs can help reduce the swelling.

Without some type of treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome will get progressively worse in most people.

Pain Management Medications

Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or other nonprescription pain relievers to reduce pain and swelling. Take these pain relievers exactly as directed to avoid potentially dangerous side effects. Diuretics (water pills) can also decrease swelling.

In some cases, the doctor may recommend an injection of corticosteroids or lidocaine to relieve pressure on the median nerve. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and relieve pressure on the nerve. They can offer short-term relief of symptoms in a majority of people with carpal tunnel syndrome, but symptoms may return. Most doctors will only give a maximum of three steroid injections per year, because they can cause complications such as weakened or ruptured tendons or nerve irritation.

Corticosteroids can also be taken by mouth. Oral corticosteroids are usually given for one to two weeks. Long-term use of these medications is generally not recommended for carpal tunnel syndrome because they can cause serious side effects.


Once symptoms have abated, a physical therapist or occupational therapist can demonstrate stretching and strengthening exercises for the wrist. Yoga may help reduce pain and improve grip strength.


If you do not gain relief from nonsurgical treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery. Carpal tunnel release is a procedure that involves cutting the band of tissue around the wrist to increase the size of the carpal tunnel and reduce pressure on the median nerve.

Carpal tunnel surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis, using local anesthesia. Some doctors will make a smaller skin incision and use an instrument called an endoscope to cut the tissue from the inside of the carpal tunnel.

Symptoms may be relieved immediately after surgery, but full recovery may take months. Immediately after surgery, you may experience a decline in grip strength and dexterity.  You may need to wear a wrist brace for several weeks.

If you work in a strenuous job, the doctor may recommend that you stay out of work for at least a month, or even longer, after surgery. If you perform light office work, you may be able to return to work much sooner. Your doctor will tell you when you can return to work and whether you should restrict any of your work activities.

Physical therapy is recommended after surgery to restore strength to the wrist.

Updated on: 11/18/15
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