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Carpal tunnel syndrome: Learn More – Wrist splints and hand exercises

Last Update: May 20, 2021; Next update: 2024.

Many people who have carpal tunnel syndrome have mild or moderate symptoms that come and go. In those cases, wearing a splint and avoiding too much stress on the wrist may be enough to provide relief.

The main symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are tingling, numbness or pain in parts of the hand. Sometimes it's difficult to move your thumb or first two fingers properly too. This is caused by too much pressure on the median nerve, which runs through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.

Sometimes these symptoms disappear again without treatment. A wrist splint can be worn for support. Splints aren't always effective enough, but they have hardly any side effects compared with other treatment options, like steroid injections or surgery.

When are wrist splints considered?

Many people with mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome wear a splint at night for a few weeks. The splint holds the wrist joint in a neutral position. The symptoms are worse at night because your hand is more likely to bend while you're sleeping. The splint prevents this from happening. It's also important to move the joint normally during the day to keep it from becoming stiff and stop the muscles becoming weak. A support bandage can be used instead of a splint.

Studies suggest that wearing a splint can improve the symptoms within a few weeks, but the effect is often only temporary. In some people splints don't help at all, or the symptoms return after a while.

Most people get used to wearing a splint and don't find that it stops them from sleeping. The skin might occasionally tingle a bit or feel swollen or numb when the splint is removed in the morning.

There are many different types of splints. According to research, none of them are more effective than the others. So there's nothing wrong with trying out a different type if you don't feel happy with the one you have.

Does avoiding certain types of strain help?

Overusing your wrist or putting abnormal stress on it can make the symptoms worse. Sometimes they become more severe when you do repetitive activities or put extreme strain on the joint – for instance, while doing manual labor, working on an assembly line, or using machinery that vibrates a lot, such as a jackhammer.

It's not always possible to avoid these kinds of activities for a while at work to see if symptoms then improve. You may need to stay home from work for some time. It's important to keep moving your wrist as you normally would, but to avoid putting too much strain on it. You can also wear a splint at night.

Research has shown that computer work has at most a very small effect on carpal tunnel syndrome. Ergonomic computer keyboards with an elevated and curved surface are still sometimes recommended to help prevent problems. They are designed to allow you to keep your hands in a more neutral position, reducing the strain on your hand and wrist when typing. There's hardly any research on whether this can help to prevent or relieve symptoms.

How effective are hand exercises?

Some experts think that hand exercises can reduce the pressure on the median nerve in the carpal tunnel and reduce the symptoms. Various types of special hand exercises are used to stretch and strengthen the hands. Massages, yoga and exercises designed to mobilize the nerve are also sometimes recommended, as are chiropractic and osteopathic treatments. So far, studies have not shown that moving the hand in these ways can help to relieve the symptoms.


© IQWiG (Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care)
Bookshelf ID: NBK279596


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