Treating Carpal Tunnel – First Steps

No-nonsense advice on what to do when you first encounter the symptoms of carnal tunnel syndrome. What are the first steps you should take?

Carpal Tunnel Helpline - Treatment - first steps image

There are different way of treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. There is the conventional approach – an approach that is ingrained in the minds of most of the medical profession  – and which doesn’t really work. Then there are the new, alternative treatments, which avoid the need for surgery.

These new approaches have become more and more relevant as we discover more about the underlying causes of carpal tunnel syndrome. They take into account the fact that many of the cases of carpal tunnel syndrome have nothing to do with the carpal tunnel at all. The problem lies elsewhere in the body – for example, in the muscular skeletal structure of the arm or shoulder.

Carpal Tunnel Helpline - Carpal Tunnel - Treating the arm

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a symptom not a cause and it must be seen as such. This means that we need to find the underlying problem that is creating the symptoms: the numbness in the hand, a tingling or burning sensation in the fingers, a loss of control of some of the muscles of the hand. The aim is to identify this underlying cause and treat it – treating the cause not the symptom.

However, although there is a range of treatments now available, the question is: what do you do when you first discover the symptoms? 

Like any health condition, the initial approach demands a degree of common sense.  

Thus, if you notice any sudden loss of feeling in the wrist, hand or arm, go see your doctor immediately. You should also go see your doctor if you:

  • Have tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain in your fingers or hand that keeps coming back or that has not gone away after 2 weeks of home treatment.
  • Have gradually developed little or no feeling in your fingers or hand.
  • Cannot do simple hand movements or you accidentally drop things.
  • Cannot pinch your thumb and index finger together or your pinch is weak.
  • Cannot use your thumb normally – diminished thumb strength.

If the problem has arisen after trauma or injury to the wrist, hand or arm, then it is likely that this has triggered whatever pain and discomfort you are feeling.

However, if there has been nothing recently that could have set off the symptoms that have developed, then the aim is to identify the source of the problem as accurately as possible. And then treat it!

Watch and wait:

Carpal Tunnel Helpline - treatments - Woman in green

Bearing in mind the above, it is generally accepted that you can treat minor symptoms of wrist and hand pain or numbness at home for 1 to 2 weeks before calling your doctor.

The first thing that many people do, when they get some kind of pain, whether it is in the hand, wrist or elsewhere is to take a painkiller – on the basis that the pain will gradually disappear on its own.

This is generally a sensible idea. The body is usually quite capable of healing many health problems without intervention – or with minimal intervention. In fact much of modern medicine is designed to relieve pain while encouraging and helping the body to heal itself.


Many doctors will therefore often prescribe an oral analgesic (painkiller) as the first step in the treatment process.

Take action yourself:

If the pain is anything like the symptoms described here, then the first steps should be:


  • Rest your hand and wrist;
  • Review the way you are working with your hand, wrist or arm as well as how you sit, stand etc;
  • Stop whatever repetitive activities could be causing the problem;
  • If you have to continue with these activities, take frequent short breaks.

Home remedies:

Along with rest, another home remedy is icing.  To do this, keep your hand and wrist in iced water for 15 minutes or so …. and do this at least once every day. This helps reduce inflammation and swelling and will often ease the pain. 

Carpal Tunnel Helpline - Icing treatment for hand


If there is no reduction in the pain and no signs of the problem getting better within 1 to 2 weeks, then consult a doctor or your regular health professional.

Carpal Tunnel Helpline - Doctor doing Tinels testDepending on your doctor’s knowledge about this condition, he/she ought to give you a thorough medical examination. This is designed not only to determine the extent of the condition but also to identify any underlying condition(s) that may have made you predisposed to the development of your symptoms. In fact it is possible that an underlying condition could even be the cause of the symptoms. There is much evidence to suggest that this is a common occurrence.

Once diagnosed by your doctor or another health practitioner, treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome usually follows a conventional path. First of all analgesics to ease the pain. If the pain is intense, your doctor might move quickly on to steroid injections. At which point he/she will then start to discuss surgery.

In fact, many doctors say that the only way of getting long term relief is surgery and that any short term treatment simply puts off the inevitable.

Thus the conventional approach takes a short term predictable path towards surgery.

However, surgery is not inevitable. As we show elsewhere, nowadays, there is a host of alternative treatments ….. many of which are able to,provide long term relief.



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