The carpal tunnel is an anatomic passageway that runs through the inner side of your wrist, facing your palm. It is made up of different structures including bones, muscles, and tendons. The carpal tunnel contains several different tendons, and also the median nerve, which controls many hand movements.
Carpal tunnel syndrome (also known as CTS) is a relatively common condition that can affect the nerves in your hand and wrist. It occurs when the median nerve is placed under excessive pressure. This pressure can be either extrinsic – coming from outside the tunnel -, or intrinsic – coming from inside the tunnel.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause abnormal sensations in your forearm or hand, such as:
- Thumb weakness
- Dull pain
- Weak grip
- Loss of manual dexterity
- Atrophy of the thumb muscles
In some cases, the exact cause of carpal tunnel syndrome can’t be identified. In other cases, it can be associated with work-related injuries, overuse of the wrist or hand, different types of arthritis, previous injuries, pregnancy, tumors, and obesity.
Our hand mobility is crucial to most of our everyday tasks, and carpal tunnel syndrome can be a very debilitating condition. Being unable to perform hand motions without pain can significantly hinder your independence.
Severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome sometimes require surgery, and you should always get your symptoms checked by a physician. But fortunately, there are several natural strategies that you can use to combat carpal tunnel syndrome and manage your symptoms.
Natural therapy 1. Find quick relief using heat and cold therapy.
Heat and cold therapy are one of the most common ways to treat many joint and muscle injuries, and there is a good reason for it. Both heat and cold have different but complementary effects that can help reduce your carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
Heat therapy can help relax your muscles, relieving the pressure that hurts your median nerve. It can also improve your circulation and increase circulation, bringing extra oxygen and nutrients that will help your tissues heal. Heat can also improve tissue elasticity.
Cold therapy, on the other hand, can numb sore and aching tissues. It can also decrease swelling and muscular spasms.
You can alternate warm and cold compresses or gel packs to get quick relief from carpal tunnel syndrome pain. It is very important to avoid using extreme temperatures that could hurt your skin. You should never apply ice directly to your skin.
Try alternating between heat and cold therapy a few times every day to decrease your symptoms. Research has shown that this method can also help reduce the compression that affects your median nerve.
Natural therapy 2. Avoid repetitive movements to avoid overworking your carpal tunnel.
Most of us perform many repetitive movements throughout the day without even realizing it. A single movement might not have a negative effect on our bodies, but repetitive movements that overwork our tissues can create injuries over time.
Repetitive movements constitute one of the most important and common risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome. In fact, many cases of carpal tunnel syndrome develop as a result of performing the same tasks over and over each day – particularly those who work using their hands.
Common repetitive hand motions that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Typing on a keyboard
- Using hand drills
- Playing musical instruments
- Assembling small objects
- Using screwdrivers or hammers
If you need to perform repetitive hand movements as part of your work, it can be difficult to get rid of them altogether. However, you can try taking breaks every 15 minutes or whenever you start to feel pain or abnormal sensations in your hands or arms.
Natural therapy 3. Combine exercise and natural enzymes and you will achieve long-term relief.
Bromelia is an enzyme that can be naturally found in pineapples. This compound can digest certain proteins and inflammatory substances in your body. It is also the reason why pineapple has long been considered to be a powerful anti-inflammatory food.
Bromelain can increase vascular permeability and blood circulation. It also mediates the production of prostaglandins, which are pro-inflammatory substances that lead to pain. This enzyme also has a positive effect on bradykinins, which are pain mediators.
A 2019 study compared the effectiveness of bromelain and exercise in the treatment of occupational carpal tunnel syndrome. A group of patients received oral bromelain, while another group incorporated rehabilitation exercises into their diet. Their results were compared to a control group that only received a placebo.
The results of the study showed that both the bromelain and exercise therapies were highly effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome. By the end of the study, patients reported significant improvements in hand strength, range of motion, pain, and abnormal sensations.
Effective hand exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Rotating your wrist up, down, left, and right.
- Pulling your thumb back softly.
- Placing your hands in a typical “prayer” position.
- Holding your palm up or down and using your other hand to pull it gently.
- Stretching your fingers apart.
Since bromelain can be found in pineapples, you can incorporate some fresh pineapple into your everyday routine. You can also find commercially available supplements.
Natural therapy 4. Take some vitamin B6 to increase the effect of other natural therapies.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a natural substance that has been found to significantly improve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Vitamin B6 can increase the production of neurotransmitters and the lipids that cover and protect your nerves. As a result, it can help relieve different neurological conditions that lead to nerve pain, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Research has shown that vitamin B6 supplementation can raise pain thresholds, and it could allow patients to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome surgery in certain cases. It can also help bolster the results of other natural therapies for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Many supplements contain B vitamins. There are also numerous foods that contain vitamin B6, including:
- Beef liver
- Green peas
Natural therapy 5. Turmeric contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that can relieve your symptoms.
Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has been found to have amazing anti-inflammatory properties that can relieve pain all over your body. This natural substance can relieve arthritis, digestive diseases, and many other ailments. It also works as an antioxidant.
Studies have found that taking a curcumin supplement, combined with B vitamins and alpha-lipoic acid, can significantly reduce carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. This combination can also be used to improve pain after carpal tunnel syndrome surgery, if necessary. Curcumin can be as effective as analgesic drugs for some patients.
You can add natural turmeric into your diet. However, this might not be the most effective way to consume a significant amount of curcumin. Thankfully, there are many turmeric supplements that are both affordable and effective for carpal tunnel syndrome and other conditions.
Natural therapy 6. Magnesium is a natural way to improve nerve function and can boost the positive effects of other treatments.
Magnesium is a mineral that can lead to many health benefits. Among many other benefits, it can block certain nerve terminals and reduce the secretion of inflammatory substances. It can also help your muscles relax. These effects can result in significant pain reduction for different muscular and nerve injuries.
A study showed that magnesium supplementation can improve symptoms of mild, moderate, and even severe carpal tunnel syndrome.
You can increase your magnesium intake through foods like:
- Dark chocolate
- Fatty fish
- Whole grains
- Black beans
However, most physicians agree that it can be difficult to get all the magnesium you need through your diet. Instead, try taking a magnesium supplement to find carpal tunnel syndrome relief.
Natural therapy 7. Yoga will improve your strength and flexibility, and it has been shown to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
Several yoga exercises and stretches can help improve your carpal tunnel symptoms. Yoga uses slow, steady motions that can increase your stability, flexibility, and strength. Yoga poses that don’t strain your wrists and encourage opening and stretching your body are preferred.
A 1998 study showed that a yoga regime that avoids placing pressure on wrists and forearms can be helpful. Patients who participated in this study practiced yoga twice weekly for eight weeks. By the end of the study, the majority of the group reported decreased pain and better grip strength.
Additionally, yoga can boost your mood and make you feel stronger and more flexible. Try joining a yoga class a few times each week. Discuss your condition with the instructor and ask for help to make sure that you don’t strain your wrists during sessions.
Natural therapy 8. Mentholated rubs can help you manage pain throughout the day.
Gels that contain menthol can provide significant relief for acute pain produced by carpal tunnel syndrome. If used consistently, it can also relieve chronic pain. The pain reduction of acute pain can last for up to 3 hours.
Menthol provides a localized alternative to oral anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs that can cause negative side effects. Menthol produces pain relief by temporarily inactivating sodium channels, which are an important component in pain pathways.
Keep a menthol rub nearby – in your work station, inside your purse. This way, you can quickly apply it to your wrist several times each day or whenever you start to feel pain.
Natural therapy 9. Try acupuncture and you will quickly reap the benefits of this ancient therapy.
Acupuncture has become very popular all over the world, and science can back up its efficacy. Acupuncture essentially “remaps” the brain to modify the pain signals that are caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also improve blood circulation to the affected area, increasing healing and reducing inflammation.
Acupuncture can be effective as an alternative therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome, and you can also combine it with traditional treatments. It might also be useful as an alternative for patients who wish to avoid chronic medication use. Acupuncture can also be combined with electric stimulation to produce greater relief.
A 2014 study showed that electroacupuncture can improve pain scores, electrical nerve function, and grip strength in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Natural therapy 10. Use a special brace during the night to keep your wrist stable and reduce pain.
Many patients with carpal tunnel syndrome can benefit from wearing a wrist splint or brace. These devices look similar to a fingerless glove, and you can find them without a prescription. Wrist splints stabilize your wrist and hand and allow your tissues to rest in a comfortable position.
These splints can relieve the pressure that is affecting your median nerve, resulting in pain relief. You don’t have to wear them 24/7; instead, you can wear splint while you sleep. In order to prevent muscle mass atrophy, you should combine using a splint with rehabilitation exercises.
Don’t use your wrist splint while you work, since moving your hand while you have the splint on can strain your muscles and tendons. Long-term use of the splint should also be avoided. Some patients might benefit from a custom wrist splint, which can be ordered by your physician or physical therapist.
Final thoughts on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common ailment that can cause very uncomfortable symptoms. It can be challenging to adjust to everyday life when you can’t grab objects or perform simple hand movements.
Fortunately, there are many natural strategies and lifestyle modifications that can help relieve your symptoms. Identifying the types of movement which aggravate your symptoms is one of the most important steps you must take to help your tissues heal. It is also important to incorporate healthy exercises that can improve your arm and hand elasticity and strength.
It is very important to be consistent once you find the therapies that work for you. Relieving inflammation and pressure inside your carpal tunnel takes some time. But once you find the strategies that make you feel better, it will only be a matter of time before you start to feel better.
Andrea, M.D is from Valencia, Venezuela. She is passionate about sexual health and education, and public health and global health. Additionally, she enjoys researching and learning about beauty, skincare, and cosmetic innovations. She has also volunteered in several NGOs in Venezuela. In her free time, Andrea enjoys reading, drinking copious amounts of coffee, making desserts for her family, going to the beach, and spending time with her dog, Dorito.