Today, I’m going to share my top natural treatments for carpal tunnel relief. While speed of results always varies from person to person, some are able to find carpal tunnel relief in as little as 24 hours. You heard that right!
Carpal tunnel is definitely an aggravating condition. It plagues a lot of people today. This is due to how many adults use their hands for many hours typing, reading, driving, writing or doing other types of labor. Surveys show that carpal tunnel symptoms develop in about 4 percent of the general population. This makes it one of the most common neuropathies (nerve related disorders) of the hands. (1)
Most of the treatments currently recommended are mostly ineffective, inconvenient and, sometimes, also expensive and risky. This includes surgery, medications or using bracing. These treatments often make carpal tunnel symptoms worse!
Before attempting to treat carpal tunnel naturally, it helps to know what causes the condition to develop in the first place. Typically, carpal tunnel is an overuse injury. It’s caused by factors including poor posture of the upper body/hand, along with repetitive movements of the wrists and fingers.
You have the greatest risk of developing carpal tunnel symptoms if you spend many hours everyday sitting hunched over at your desk, typing or using your hands in the same way for many hours. Because it’s an overuse injury, one of the first things you want to do to find carpal tunnel relief is change habits that are causing inflammation, tissue damage and straining in the hand. To help lower the pain you’re in, certain wrist and finger exercises, plus supplements and essential oils, can be very effective.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Inflammation of the carpal tunnel causes carpal tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is a very small opening just below the base of the wrist. It’s one of the most common peripheral neuropathies affecting adults. Middle-aged women develop this condition more than other age groups. (2) Here’s an overview of how carpal tunnel syndrome develops:
- The carpal tunnel is a passageway of ligament and bones located in the wrist. It holds the median nerve, which connects the forearm to the palm and fingers.
- According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the median nerve provides sensation/feeling to the palm side of the thumb and to the index, middle, and part of the ring fingers. When it becomes compressed or inflamed, synovial membrane tissue starts to aggravate the nerve. This results in pain and loss of normal range of motion of the hand.
- The carpal tunnel is very narrow and therefore prone to swelling and inflammation caused by common stressors. These stressors include: overuse of the joints/tissues in the wrist, hormonal changes, certain medications, older age, diabetes, degenerative joint diseases and arthritis. (3)
The median nerve is one of the major nerves leading to the hand. So, too much constriction, squeezing, compression or pressure easily causes symptoms like tingling or crippling pain in the fingers, wrist and hand. (4) Symptoms vary from person to person in terms of intensity and frequency. The most severe cases cause the inability to use the affected hand/wrist. Carpal tunnel is most often experienced by people who do repetitive hand motions for work or who type on computers for many hours each day. This is known as “occupational carpal tunnel syndrome.” It’s associated most often with jobs that involve exposure to high pressure/high force, repetitive work and vibrating tools.
Carpal Tunnel Causes & Symptoms
How do you know if the pain you’re dealing with is really a sign of carpal tunnel? Rather than starting after impact or an injury, carpal tunnel symptoms tend to develop gradually. Symptoms come and go depending on use of the hands. Signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome typically include: (5)
- Pain and throbbing in the affected hand or arm. The worst pain tends to develop in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.
- Numbness and tingling.
- Difficulty moving the hand or arm normally.
- Shock-like sensations throughout the hand and fingers. Pain or tingling may also travel up the forearm toward the shoulder.
- Muscle weakness and shaking in the hand. This includes a weakened grip and trouble performing movements that require strength and steadiness of the fingers/hands.
- Sometimes a loss of awareness of where your hand is in space (loss of proprioception).
- Worsened symptoms when you’re bending the hands or wrist a lot, putting pressure on the forearm, gripping, carrying, holding up a phone, driving or reading a book.
- Symptoms will likely be less severe and frequent when you first develop the condition, then worse as time goes on. Moving, stretching and shaking your hand might help make the pain go away temporarily. But, it’s likely to return, especially at night when many people experience increased throbbing and swelling.
Carpal tunnel is caused from overuse and stress in the tendon/ligament that accumulates over time. This is due to extending the wrist too much and/or keeping it in one fixed position too often. The most common causes of carpal tunnel include: excess typing on computers, working with the wrists extended, and poor posture of the arms/upper body. Research shows that risk factors associated with developing carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:
- Any movements of the lower arms and hands that strains the tissues and tendons, especially of the fingers and wrist.
- Genetics/heredity. If someone in your family has had carpal tunnel, nerve damage, arthritis or similar conditions, you might have a higher chance of having the same problem.
- Being a woman, especially who is middle age.
- Regularly performing movements that involve extreme flexion or extension of the hand and wrist (bending the wrist backward and forward over and over).
- Hormonal changes, including pregnancy and menopause. Hormonal changes, such as shifts in estrogen levels, tend to worsen swelling.
- Existing conditions that affect the nerves and joints. These include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disorders.
- Obesity or being very overweight.
Conventional Carpal Tunnel Treatment
If you suspect that you’re dealing with carpal tunnel, it’s best to be proactive and see your doctor right away. Carpal tunnel usually gets worse with time, as the nerve becomes more irritated and inflamed. Therefore, getting treated early and making necessary changes to your routine and posture can help to stop the progression. Fortunately, for many people with mild-moderate carpal tunnel syndrome, symptoms can usually be treated without surgery, and often without medications, too. Your doctor can make a diagnosis based on your history, a physical examination and testing your affected hand using electrophysiological tests. The goal of treatment, including surgery when it’s needed, is to increase the space/volume of the carpal tunnel to release the pressure on the median nerve.
- Carpal Tunnel Braces: Bracing (also called sprinting) is a common way to keep the painful wrist stabilized. It helps stop too much repetitive use, pressure and bending. Usually you wear the brace or splint during the night while you sleep in order to reduce pressure on the aggravated nerve. Depending on how severe your condition is, you might also be advised to wear a brace during the day and to rest the hand for a period of time.
- Medication Use: Your doctor might recommend taking an over-the-counter pain-killer, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or Advil, when symptoms get very bad. Because these reduce inflammation they might help you heal faster, although it’s best not to rely on them long-term (that’s what the natural treatments below are for!). If you’re very swollen, you also might be given steroid injections (such as cortisone) to reduce inflammation temporarily. But, ultimately symptoms will likely return if you don’t correct the underlying causes.
- Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Experts agree that surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome should be a last resort option, used in severe cases to prevent irreversible/permanent damage of the wrist or hand. (6) However, even though this surgery is known to be risky, it’s still one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the United States each year. Carpal tunnel surgery involves severing the affected ligament around the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve. This usually results in the ligament growing back together with more space than it had before the surgery.
- Surgery is not always effective and can cause side effects like: decrease in grip strength, infections, nerve damage, stiffness and pain at the scar site. Most people need months to recover and have to rest the hand for weeks to months after the surgery to heal. Certain studies have found that fewer than half of individuals report that the condition improves greatly after surgery, or even that their hand(s) feeling completely normal following the procedure! (7) Many have tingling, numbness, instability, weakness and still some pain.
Natural Treatment Plan for Carpal Tunnel Relief
1. Rest & Reduce Stressors
Although it’s not always easy to make changes to your work routine or even your hobbies, sometimes rest is needed to stop certain movements that are causing carpal tunnel strain and stress. Examples include like typing, carpentry work or other hobbies that require you to use your hands. Any activity or motion that causes flare ups in symptoms (especially those involving having your wrist flexed or extended too much) should be put on hold for a period of time while you heal. Changing or modifying these activities will lower the chance that the condition continues to get worse and that you’ll need to take further action to treat it. Once you’re cleared to return to work or whatever activity is causing pain, try to perform stretching exercises. Also, take frequent rest breaks to move around the hands.
2. Carpal Tunnel Exercises & Tips for Posture Correction
- If you’re going to see a physician regarding treatment for carpal tunnel, I would highly recommend visiting a chiropractor. A chiropractor can actually work on adjusting the wrist bones and realigning the carpal tunnel area, therefore, removing pressure and interference on the nerve. It’s one of the many benefits of chiropractic adjustments and may be the treatment that’s keeping you from finally finding carpal tunnel relief.
- You’ll likely also benefit from doing hand/wrist exercises on your own at home. These help the median nerve move more freely within the carpal tunnel. These include “nerve gliding exercises” that can help restore range of motion. A helpful treatment option is stretching (or tractioning) out your wrist. This is described in more detail below. Because part of carpal tunnel pain is due to a compression injury, you can get a band and traction out your wrist. Or, you just hold onto a weight and let the wrist traction itself.
- Some carpal tunnel stretches and exercises that can help resolve symptoms include: rotating your wrist up, down, and from side to side several times; stretching your fingers apart and pulling back your thumb gently; holding a prayer pose with your hands while lifting and lowering them; gently bending and extending your wrist back and forth, either with your palm up or down while you stretch it with the other hand. Just be careful not to overstretch or extend the painful area, avoiding movements that take swelling or pain even worse.
- Finally, try fixing your posture at work, including how you sit if you spend lots of time at a desk. Oftentimes, simply raising up (or lowering) your desk, raising up your computer screen, and getting your body in an upright, comfortable position at the computer can bring immediate carpal tunnel relief.
Carpal Tunnel Diet Plan:
You might not associate a poor diet with problems like carpal tunnel syndrome. But, the truth is that the quality of the foods you eat directly impacts inflammation levels throughout your whole body. Your ligaments, joints and tissue are all affected. You want to eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods. This means lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and omega-3 foods. Omega-3 foods include wild-caught fish. You can also try taking a fish oil supplement.
Here are the top foods for carpal tunnel relief, plus a bit about why they are beneficial:
- Whole fruits and vegetables. Your body needs antioxidants, electrolytes and other nutrients from fruit and vegetables to help fight inflammation and heal. Cconsuming colorful plant foods rich in potassium and magnesium, and low in sodium, can flush excess fluid from areas to reduce swelling.
- Water. Drink at least about 8 ounces of water every 2 hours to keep your body hydrated, help decrease fluid retention and relieve pain.
- Fish, flax and chia seeds. Increasing omega-3 from fish, in addition to nuts and seeds, can help reduce inflammation. It will also provide you with lubricating, healthy fats.
- Foods high in B vitamins. Vitamin B6 deficiency may make carpal tunnel syndrome more likely. Make sure to include sources of B vitamins like green leafy vegetables, beans or wild meats in your diet.
- Green smoothies, fresh juices or powdered drinks. Any green drink that includes a variety of highly nutritious grasses and sea vegetables can help heal injured tissue and lower free radical damage.
On the other hand, here are problematic, inflammatory foods you’ll want to avoid if you have carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Added sugar. Sugar can increase inflammatory responses and even pain.
- Too much salt/sodium. Fluid retention increases swelling, so limit your sodium intake from processed, canned, frozen or packaged foods.
- Foods high in saturated fat. Avoid saturated fat from sources. These include bacon, sausage, cheese or other high-fat processed meats, as saturated fat can slow circulation.
- Alcohol. More than moderate amounts of alcohol (about 1 drink per day) will increase systemic inflammation, increase swelling, and can reduce the amount of B vitamins in the body, which are critical for healing.
- Processed grains, especially those containing gluten. Eating lots of processed flour/grain products may make symptoms worse.
Supplements & Essential Oils:
For quick relief, one of the first things you can do right away is take several high-quality supplements.
- Vitamin B6 (100 mg 3x daily). Vitamin B6 reduces nerve inflammation. Research has shown that vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 benefits are wide-ranging. They are the most effective vitamins to help address carpal tunnel, support your nervous tissue, and help it heal and regenerate. Specifically, I’d recommend a B Complex that includes both vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
- Bromelain (500 mg 3x between meals). An enzyme found in pineapple, bromelain has a natural anti-inflammatory effect. Bromelain extract comes from the core of a pineapple. It’s a proteolytic or anti-inflammatory enzyme. It works very well when taken in combination with supplements like turmeric, boswellia and ginger. All can help relieve some of that pressure in the carpal area. They also have benefits for other areas of the body (including achy joints).
- Magnesium complex (500 mg calcium, 250 mg of magnesium). Calcium and magnesium are electrolytes that help reduce muscle tension. Magnesium helps relax your blood vessels and the muscular tissue that can compress nerves in the delicate carpal area. Restore the levels of electrolytes in your body by taking a magnesium supplement. Take about 250 milligrams two times daily. Some people who are very deficient will need more.
- Ginkgo biloba (120 mg 2x daily). This herb helps improve circulation, and has additional benefits like supporting high energy levels, too.
Last, but not least, one of the fastest topical treatments for carpal tunnel relief is essential oils. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to naturally reduce pain and heal various conditions. Two essential oils are going to be the most effective, and those are wintergreen oil and cypress oil.
- Wintergreen essential oil has an analgesic effect. It will actually cool the painful, inflamed area and relieve some of the symptoms.
- Cypress oil increases circulation and can, therefore, speed up healing.
- If you want to add other helpful oils to boost the tissue repair, I recommend helichrysum essential oil, peppermint and frankincense. Peppermint can reduce pain and frankincense can decrease inflammation.
- Use a mixture of cypress and wintergreen oils (and possibly the others mentioned, too). You typically will take about 3-4 drops mixed with a bit of coconut oil. Rub it on the inflamed area 1-3 times daily for fast relief.
Precautions When Treating Carpal Tunnel
Visit an orthopedist, chiropractor or your primary doctor if you notice symptoms like numbness in one or both hands, a very weak grip, tingling and other signs of carpal tunnel. Treat the condition early to prevent complications and nerve damage. Remember, when it comes to finding carpal tunnel relief, identifying the cause is the best place to start. You have to figure out what is causing your issue to develop. For example, what type of overuse injury is triggering symptoms and how exactly are you straining/stressing your wrist. You’ve also got to give the inflamed area a rest. This might not be the news you’re looking for. However, that’s what’s going to lead to fast recovery from carpal tunnel.
Final Thoughts on Carpal Tunnel Relief
- The carpal tunnel is a very small opening just below the base of the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by inflammation of the carpal tunnel and compression of the median nerve leading to the hand.
- Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome typically include: pain in the wrist/hand/fingers, throbbing, tingling, weakness, shock sensations and limited range of motion.
- Natural ways to find carpal tunnel relief include: fixing your posture, resting the affected hand, receiving chiropractic adjustments, exercising and stretching the wrist/hand, and taking supplements to help reduce inflammation.
If you feel like you could use some more in depth information on essential oils, Dr. Josh Axe is hosting a free webinar going over, in great detail, uses and tips for using essential oils. Click below to learn more.