I’ve been dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and wrist tendonitis (tenosynovitis) on and off for several years now. It’s something I cannot ignore since I spend most of my day on the computer which is the main cause of my pain. I have gone for long periods of time pain free (six months or more), but sometimes I fall back into bad habits. I get repetitive strain pain and I’m forced to remember I need to take care of my wrists. Below I have listed some carpel tunnel treatments I have tried over the years that have worked for relieving my symptoms.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome vs Wrist Tendonitis and Other Similar Ailments
Up until recently, I thought I only had carpel tunnel syndrome. But after doing some research for this article, I discovered that I have symptoms of wrist tendonitis as well. Both are repetitive strain injuries. Most of my pain is felt in my wrist, but sometimes radiates up to my elbow and even through my shoulder. Carpel tunnel pain/numbness/tingling occurs primarily in the thumb, index, middle fingers and palm side of the wrist caused by the irritation of the median nerve that passes through the carpel tunnel of the wrist. On a side note, if you have pain/numbness/tingling in your ring and pinky fingers, you may have Cubital Tunnel Syndrome caused by irritation of the cubital nerve in your elbow.
Wrist tendonitis, caused by the irritation of tendons surrounding the wrist joint, will also cause pain in the forearm. Another type of wrist tendonitis is DeQuervains Tendonitis (also D. Tenosynovitis), which primarily caused pain at the base of the thumb. In addition, elbow tendonitis, or tennis elbow, can be caused by more than just playing tennis. Typing at a computer can cause pain on the outside of your forearm, just below your elbow. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have a combination of carpel tunnel, wrist tendonitis and tennis elbow because I have pain described by all three.
Phalen’s Test for CTS
The Phalen’s Test is a simple test that you can do to help verify you have carpal tunnel syndrome. You essentially are putting your hands in a position that aggravates the median nerve and produces the symptoms of tingling, numbness and pain from CTS. The short video below will show you how to test yourself.
Wrist Tendonitis and Carpal Tunnel Treatments
I wanted to find home remedy solutions first and considered going to the doctor or having carpal tunnel release surgery a last resort. I know of people who have had the release surgery and their symptoms either stayed the same, improved slightly, had less strength in their wrists or the worse scenario, their symptoms became even more intense. Like I said, I would only consider surgery if I felt I had no other choice and my quality of life was suffering because of it. My symptoms have cause a lot of pain, but have not become completely debilitating, mostly because I am trying to address the underlying issues. It’s important to know what is causing your carpel tunnel syndrome. Women are two to five times more likely to develop CTS than men and symptoms may become worse due to pregnancy, PMS, menopause or other hormonal imbalances.
Carpal Tunnel Wrist Braces, Splints, Supports
The reason for wearing a wrist brace is to minimize your wrist from bending to prevent pressure on the median nerve and tendons. From research I have done, it seems to be that immobilization may be okay for short-term treatment or for more severe injuries, but not for long-term use, unless directed by your physician, of course. They may help temporarily, but ultimately will not cure your CTS. I’ve tried traditional, rigid wrist guards, but did not use them because they seemed to do more harm then good for my wrist issues. I found them uncomfortable to wear, were not lessening my pain and instead making my wrist muscles weaker than stronger.
Flexible Wrist Supports
I did find a nice compromise between wearing a rigid wrist brace and not one at all. I now wear IMAK Smart Gloves while working on the computer. It is designed by an orthopedic surgeon to prevent and relieve pain from carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist pain. The gloves are made from a cotton/lycra blend that is very comfortable to wear. I like these way better than any other wrist brace because they are much more flexible, breathable, don’t make your hands sweat (like neoprene and other heavier wrist braces do) and just feel good.
The Smart Gloves keep your wrists in an ergonomic position by allowing them to rest on the cushion of “ergoBeads” below your palms and wrist. They kind of feel like little bean bags. There are also removable splint supports on the top of the gloves to keep your wrists in the correct position. The splint is flexible and not rigid like the metal ones in other wrist braces. I purchased two to wear on both hands at the same time, but you can just get one and alternate using on your other hand because they are reversible. Again, this is a flexible wrist support, not a rigid wrist brace. Some people may be disappointed that it doesn’t have enough support, but I think it’s just the right amount and think other wrist braces are too constricting and may ultimately cause weakening of the surrounding muscles.
Night Wrist Splint
I tend to curl and bend my wrists when I sleep and sometimes will wake up because my wrists are aching and/or my hands are tingling and going numb. This mostly happens on days when I have done work to cause my wrists to hurt during the day.
I found this night time wrist splint that keeps my wrist straight, but is very comfortable to wear. I am a light sleeper and it often takes me a long time to fall asleep so wearing something uncomfortable is not an option. when I wear this splint, my wrist feels better almost immediately and I often wake up the next morning pain-free. It’s a good way to give your wrist a break. It allows your forearm, wrist and hand muscles to relax and rest while you sleep instead of being in a clenched position. When your hand is kept in this neutral position, the carpel tunnel is kept open and not stressed.
I like this kind of “loose immobilization”, if you will, during rest much more so than with firm immobilization from traditional wrist guards during daytime use. This wrist glove is also latex-free, made form soft cotton and foam, reversible and washable. Apparently one of the best non-invasive carpel tunnel syndrome treatments recommended by doctors is night splinting and this one was rated as one of the best splints.. The same orthopedic surgeon who designed the Smart Glove I mentioned created this one as well.
Icing and Heating Treatments
Applying ice is one of the first things, in addition to stretching and stopping the activity that’s causing the pain, I do when I start to have pain because it’s simple and fast. The best advice I have seen and works for me is to not only apply ice but massage the ice into your wrists for five minutes or so or until it gets too cold on your skin. Repeat this several times a day when you are having pain. You can also try contrast hydrotherapy (alternating heat and cold) where you submerge your hands into hot water (not too hot!) for 2-3 minutes and then into ice water for 1 minute. Repeat this 3 times. This is supposed to encourage healing and decrease inflammation by flushing out the “bad” stuff and increasing circulation.
During the winter we keep our house kind of cool, so I make sure that my hands don’t get too cold by keeping a homemade hot water bottle on my lap or near my desk so that I can warm up my hands when needed. I also found that dipping my hands in a warm paraffin bath is very soothing and keeps my joints loose and prevents stiffness.
Carpal Tunnel Wrist Strengthening Exercises, Stretching and Self-Massage Therapy for Treatment and Prevention
It’s important to take breaks from whatever repetitive movement causes your pain. Try to take breaks at least every couple of hours, even if it’s just for five minutes or so. Personally, when I am working on the computer I make sure I do some kind of stretch and massage at least every 3o minutes. You may want to set some kind of time to remind you to stretch. Sometimes I become so focused on what I’m doing I don’t even realize an hour or more has gone by before needing to take a break. Stretching and massaging should not be done if you are having severe pain. You must address acute pain first and inflammation.
There’s all kind of wrist strengthening products on the market. One that I chose is the Dynaflex Gyro Exerciser. Inside the ball case is a mini-gyroscope which can rotate up to 13,000 rpm’s and create 38 lbs of torque. You get the ball spinning by pulling on a string and then rotating the ball in your hand. The more you rotate, the more torque you get and the harder it is to keep it spinning. It’s pretty amazing how much of a workout you can get on your wrists and forearms from this little device. I have the Pro Plus version which has a little digital readout on top that tells you your current speed, highest rpms reached and maximum revolutions. You don’t need the speedometer, but I find it fun to see my top speed and try to out do it or compete with my friends. It definitely has improved my strength which has improved my CTS.
Medications and Topical Treatments
I do not like taking medications for any ailment long term, but will use them sparingly to relieve acute pain. Over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen can help reduce your inflammation and pain, but also have side effects like stomach upset so I do not get in the habit of taking oral pain medication often.
Castor Oil is an extract made from the castor bean, Ricinus communis. I first learned about using castor oil topically for injuries when I sprained my ankle. Then I heard a doctor talk about using it for carpal tunnel syndrome on the Dr. Oz. show. Apparently the high concentration of ricinoleic acid in castor oil is the source of its many healing attributes.
When Arnica is applied topically for arthritis, sprains and CTS, it reduces inflammation and increases healing via the lymphatic system. For CTS and tendonitis, you can create a castor oil pack. I rub castor oil liberally on my wrists and then wrap them loosely with gauze when I go to bed. You can use any cloth, just make sure its loose. The doctor on the show also said you can optionally wrap the cloth with plastic wrap and apply a heating pad for an hour. the plastic wrap is to keep the oil from getting on your heating pad.
Arnica treatments are made from the flowering plant, Arnica montana. It is a homeopathic topical medicine that can be used to relieve pain from inflammation, bruising, sprains and general muscular pain. It has been used to treat CTS, tendonitis, arthritis and similar conditions by increasing circulation and stimulating your immune system (white blood cells).
You can get Arnica montana as an ointment, cream, gel or as a liquid concentrate. I rub it into my wrists whenever I start to feel any discomfort. Sometimes I will apply Arnica ointment with the castor oil pack mentioned above for a more intensive treatment.
Ergonomics and Computer Solutions
I never had any issues with my wrists until I started spending a lot of time on the computer. It’s primarily repetitive mouse clicking that causes my pain. In order to create a better , I purchased some things that make computer use better. One is an ergonomic keyboard that is slightly tilted, has a spacious wrist rest and the keyboard keys are separated down the middle and placed at an angle that makes typing more comfortable because of a more natural placement for your fingers to reach and touch.
The mouse is the biggest culprit. I now use a smaller ergonomic mouse that fits more comfortably for my hand shape and size. When I do use the mouse, I alternate hands and switch the mouse and pad over to the left or right side of the keyboard. This has helped a lot so that one hand doesn’t get overused.
When I have to do a lot of typing, instead of using the keyboard I use speech recognition software. Dragon Naturally Speaking is one of the most popular software brands that boasts 99% accuracy out of the box – meaning you don’t have to take a lot of time “training” the software to recognize your speech. It types faster than me, nearly as fast as I can talk, and I find I get my projects done faster by being able to relax and just talk instead of having to type as well.
Conclusion: Don’t ignore your symptoms and if you do try some sort of treatment* - stick with it! Your wrists may feel better, but always be mindful of protecting your wrists so that symptoms don’t return and become more serious. The big reason why my symptoms come and go is because when I don’t have pain for awhile, I get lazy and forget to take breaks, stretch and stop using my Smart Gloves at the computer. You can’t ignore CTS, it will not go away by itself and you must be persistent with treatment.
*Note: I’m not a doctor. The statements in this article are simply my opinions and what has worked for my carpel tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. This information is for general educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed physician for proper diagnosis and before starting any kind of treatment.
Question: What kind of carpal tunnel treatments have you tried? Exercises? Braces? Other? How long have you had CTS?