I’ve suffered from carpal tunnel symptoms for years and finally had the surgery on both hands. I hope my experience helps others.
I’ve suffered from carpal tunnel symptoms for years. My job requires me to type on multiple computer keyboards all day long, and I also move multiple laptops around in my classroom. In my spare time, I do freelance writing. Typing is one of the activities that can really exacerbate the numbness and tingling, and I type constantly. Although, in my case, I think the bigger problem was the repetitive lifting.
Last year, when the symptoms got so bad that it was waking me up in the middle of the night, I decided to see an orthopedist. He told me he could perform surgery but that the numbness in my right hand might be permanent. That’s when I decided to be proactive and seek some alternate solutions to surgery. So far, they seem to be working. While I still have some occasional numbness and tingling once in a while, my symptoms have lessened to the degree that it no longer impairs my quality of life.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
If you work with your hands, there is probably nothing more annoying or painful than carpal tunnel syndrome. It involves the muscles and tendons surrounding the median nerve in the wrist. With overuse of your hands, these muscles and tendons thicken and exert constant pressure on the median nerve. The nerve becomes inflamed from the extra pressure, which, over time, results in carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Activities that involve pressure on the wrists, such as continuous typing or heavy lifting with your wrists, are the typical culprits in the onset of this condition. It can take years for the symptoms to become troublesome. When the symptoms become worse, quality of life for the sufferer can become severely compromised with constant pain, numbness and tingling.
Why Consider Alternatives to Surgery?
The solution most commonly recommended by orthopedists is surgery. However, not everyone can afford this expensive option, and there are many people who simply object to the idea of having their wrist cut open. The recovery time can vary from person to person, but for some people, even a couple of weeks without the use of their hand is not manageable.
Additionally, many surgeons don’t tell patients that the surgery can only be performed once. If it’s not successful, there’s nothing else that can be done, and the symptoms—such as numbness—will be permanent.
5 Ways to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Without Surgery
- Wear a high-quality wrist brace at work and while sleeping.
- Add anti-inflammatory herbs to your diet like turmeric and oregano.
- Try a natural supplement such as glucosamine chondroitin.
- Use a topical cream that contains arnica to relieve pain.
- Adjust your workspace to make typing more comfortable.
1. Wear a High-Quality Wrist Brace at Work and While Sleeping
Since the median nerve is extra sensitive to pressure, keeping your wrist straight while you sleep is important to avoid waking up in the middle of the night with severe numbness and wrist pain. I used to wake up in agony and have to press and shake my arm to get rid of the pain. As soon as I started wearing a brace at night, I was able to sleep through the night without pain.
If you do a lot of repetitive lifting for your job, then sturdy wrist braces should be worn at all times during work. A brace keeps your wrist straight when you’re lifting, which is important to prevent additional stress on the wrists and median nerve. You can wear separate braces for sleeping and work. In fact, it’s a good idea to have one for work and one for home and to wash them regularly to avoid skin irritations.
The type of brace you choose is critically important.
- A brace should never be too soft, as it will not provide the needed support.
- A hard brace with at least two Velcro straps is the best support, and it’s not as uncomfortable as you might think.
- High-quality braces should be thick and have three straps.
- In addition to straps, the proper brace should only go halfway up the hand, giving your fingers wiggle room.
There are several good brands of hand and wrist braces on the market. However, the one brand that is my personal favorite is the Mueller wrist braces. Mueller braces are sturdy, and the three strong Velcro straps really do the job of stabilizing the wrist and hand while leaving the fingers free. It’s the best brand I’ve used so far, and I’ve tried several.
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2. Add Anti-Inflammatory Herbs to Your Diet
Turmeric is so powerful that it can be taken orally to treat a wide variety of inflammatory conditions. I started using turmeric capsules over the summer while I was on hiatus from teaching. Lo and behold, about three or four days after I started taking the supplement, the pain and numbness that I had been dealing with every morning started to subside. About a week after taking the turmeric daily, the symptoms were almost gone. It felt incredible to wake up in the morning without throbbing pain in my right hand.
There is no hard evidence from conventional medical studies that turmeric reduces inflammation. However, it is my personal belief from many years of using it that it does offer relief from a variety of ailments related to inflammation. I take into consideration what the established medical field recommends, but I also know that in the United States, the bulk of research funding goes to man-made medications that will reap a sizable profit.
I make turmeric part of my daily supplementation, and I’ve discovered that it not only helps carpal tunnel but it also makes me feel better overall, including a lessening of my allergies and osteoarthritis symptoms. Regardless of what traditional medicine says, the anecdotal evidence was enough to encourage me to try it.
It should be noted that turmeric acts as a blood thinner. You should always consult with your physician if you’re planning on adding any kind of natural herbs to your routine. Natural does not always equal safe for every person because each of us has different health conditions.
The second herbal supplement I take once or twice a week is oil of oregano. I’ve written other articles about the curative powers of oil of oregano for skin conditions, fungal infection, and all kinds of viruses like the cold and flu. Oil of oregano is also excellent as a topical agent for pain and inflammation, but because of the smell and thick consistency, I take it internally for systemic inflammation and abstain from using it on my wrists. I prefer using creams on my skin unless I have some dermatitis—then I use the oil of oregano out of the bottle.
3. Try a Natural Supplement Such as Glucosamine Chondroitin With MSM
My miracle supplement is glucosamine chondroitin with MSM, at least 1500mg. A lot of people take glucosamine chondroitin without MSM, but some research shows that taking one without the other is not nearly as effective as taking a supplement that combines these ingredients. MSM is a sulfur compound that is necessary for the optimal health of all the body’s organs and bones, including the heart. A physical therapist I work with recommended only taking supplements that included MSM.
Perhaps the most important benefit of taking MSM daily is its anti-inflammatory properties. Since carpal tunnel is an inflammation of the large nerve in the wrist, anything that reduces the inflammation is worth taking every day. I’ve had great success with the Jarrow brand of glucosamine chondroitin and MSM. It costs a bit more than some other brands, but it’s one of the more respected health supplement brands, and the reviews convinced me to try it. I’ve had a good experience with these capsules, especially because they’re easy to swallow.
It should be noted that some studies show that glucosamine chondroitin with MSM do not relieve pain or reduce inflammation. One study showed that only a few test subjects felt relief by taking these supplements while the majority had no marked improvement in symptoms. Other studies, however, did show a marked improvement in pain. My opinion is that everything is worth a try. You won’t know if something works for you until you try it.
A supplement that may work is worth trying for a couple of months. Taking synthetic medications should be a last resort because the long-term health risks associated with ibuprofen products and NSAIDS are alarming. Liver and stomach damage are two big side effects of these over-the-counter drugs. Long-term use of pain-killers is life-threatening–including kidney failure. Doctors neglect to stress this to patients.
It's also worth noting that a supplement that may not work for one person may work for another. Glucosamine chondroitin and MSM has worked for me, not just for the carpal tunnel symptoms, but also with the osteoarthritis in my knees. I plan on using it for the rest of my life.
4. Use a Topical Cream That Contains Arnica to Relieve Pain
Any cream that contains arnica is very helpful for most types of pain caused by inflammation of the tendons, nerves, and joints. One of the best over-the-counter products on the market is Penetrex. It contains arnica and is an excellent pain reliever to rub on your hands and wrists.
Arnica is derived from a plant called the Arnica montana, which is similar to a dandelion. The pain-relieving creams and tinctures are extracted from the leaves of the plant. Luckily, since I’ve been taking the turmeric, glucosamine with MSM and wearing a brace, it’s rare for me to feel wrist pain. When I get the occasional flare-up, I use the Arnicare cream and it really helps. There are several good brands, but I especially like the Arnicare cream because it's not greasy or smelly. If you decide to try another brand, check the ingredients to make sure arnica is one of the main components.
5. Adjust Your Work Space to Make Typing More Comfortable
Unless you have an ergonomically correct desk, chair and wrist rest, typing for any length of time is a miserable experience. If at all possible, make sure you are sitting on a desk chair that is adjustable and that allows your forearms to rest comfortably on your desk. I was sitting on a desk chair for a couple of years that was too low for my desk. The pain in my hand radiated up to my shoulder because of the angle. Once I switched to a higher chair, the pain lessened immediately.
Ideally, your forearms should rest perpendicular to your upper arms if you’re sitting at the right height. Your wrists should not be higher than your elbows while working.
Furthermore, your wrists benefit from some cushioning and support. A decent wrist rest positioned properly in front of your computer keyboard will keep your hands positioned during typing to minimize repetitive injury. A good wrist rest will not only cushion the wrist area, but it will keep your hands and fingers in the right position to avoid additional strain.
With the Right Combination of Self-Treatment Methods, You Can Skip Surgery
I’m someone who likes to have options. When it comes to medical conditions, I believe in seeking medical advice from a professional. Then, I do my own research to find alternatives to drugs and surgery. I’m not a doctor, but I have had great success finding alternatives that doctors don’t always discuss with their patients.
Doctors are quick to cut and snip, especially with carpal tunnel syndrome. However, if you want to try some alternatives, you may be surprised at the results. With some patience—and trial and error—you can find the right combination of supplements and pain reducers, including braces, to get relief.
In many instances, you can reduce the inflammation in your wrists to the extent that you can live pain-free. Even when it comes to activities that involve your hands, such as typing, the right pain-management regimen and supplementation can help you regain the use of your hands without pain.
Additional facts about carpal tunnel syndrome, causes, and treatments:
Health benefits of turmeric:
Study on glucosamine chondroitin for relief of osteoarthritis symptoms:
Information on MSM for pain relief:
Health benefits of oregano:
About arnica as a topical pain reliever:
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Terry on March 21, 2017:
Thanks for all the great advice! I feel like there's hope and I'll try these things! And also talk to my doctor. Appreciate you taking the time!
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on November 07, 2015:
Thanks for your reply Wendy. Actually the slipped discs are not painful, they just cause numbness sometimes when I sleep the wrong way. But as I mentioned, keeping my head on a thick pillow avoids any problems.
In your case you found out that you definitely had Carpal Tunnel. So it's good you had a good doctor who did the surgery successfully. It's important to get that fixed because, as you indicated, one can lose use of their fingers if they let it get numb too often.
Wendy Golden (author) from New York on November 07, 2015:
Thanks for stopping by Glenn. Those slipped discs sound painful. Turmeric works wonders. As it turns out, I delayed surgery for several years with non - surgical options, I finally had to opt for surgery on my right hand. I was actually losing use of my fingers.
I got a second opinion from a hand specialist, who did the surgery. It was a huge success and I'm writing an article about my experience. In my case I knew it was Carpal Tunnel, but that is not always true for patients. A proper diagnosis is crucial for the surgery to work. Good luck with your condition.
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on November 05, 2015:
It's good that you looked for an alternate solution to surgery. From my own experience, I found that doctors don't always know everything. I had surgery several years ago for carpal tunnel. But some time after that another doctors discovered that I had three slipped discs in my neck that were the cause of the numbness in my hand.
My other hand, which I did not have carpel tunnel surgery, started getting numb at times. But it gets better when I use a thick pillow under my head at night. So it wasn't carpel tunnel in my case even though the first doctor said it was.
Doctors are too quick to recommend surgery. And as you said, they, as well as pharmaceutical industries, benefit from encouraging people towards this solution.
You mentioned the power of using Turmeric as an Anti-Inflammatory - I make my own hummus and I use Turmeric as one of the ingredients. I agree with you, as I find my hands don't get numb as much when I use Turmeric over a period of time.
Wendy Golden (author) from New York on August 06, 2014:
Yes I believe surgery is an absolute last resort. So far my hands are doing great. I've stopped wearing the wrist brace. I don't seem to need it anymore. I hope the herbs help you too. Thanks for stopping by. :-)
Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on August 06, 2014:
I didn't know about some of the herbs you mentioned. They need to be added to my daily supply, since I too write better through my hands.
Leena from new delhi on February 10, 2014:
Very helpful and informative.
Wendy Golden (author) from New York on December 22, 2013:
Yes, many of the natural supplements that work for fibromyalgia also work for nerve problems like Carpal Tunnel. Thanks for stopping by. :-)
mylindaelliott from Louisiana on December 20, 2013:
I use and do several of these things already for fibromyalgia. I didn't realize it would help with carpal tunnel too.
Wendy Golden (author) from New York on December 16, 2013:
Yup, I heard the same thing. Makes you wonder what's the point of surgery if you have a 50/50 chance of ending up with the same symptoms.
Go figure. Thanks for stopping by. :-)
Janis from California on December 16, 2013:
I have carpal tunnel and the Dr. told me that even with surgery, it doesn't mean it will make it better. It's a chance you have to take. I opted out.
Wendy Golden (author) from New York on December 12, 2013:
@LongTimeMother: Thank you! Herbs really can help a lot of people.
@Mel Carriere: I'm sorry you're having the same problem. I'm hoping some of what I wrote helps you. Thanks for the compliment. :-)
Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on December 12, 2013:
My wife recently had Carpal Tunnel surgery. The wrist brace did not work for her. I fear I am heading down the same road, so I am going to try a few of your tips. Great hub!
LongTimeMother from Australia on December 12, 2013:
Hi macteacher. This is an excellent hub. I am a great supporter of all the herbs you mentioned. :)