Physical Therapy Treatments for Carpal Tunnel

It is estimated 260,000 carpal tunnel surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. However, early in the disorder, CTS is reversible. Unfortunately, if not treated, over time the insulation on the nerves may wear away, and permanent nerve damage may develop resulting in the need for surgery.

There are several physical therapy treatments which can treat CTS. Whichever methods the physical therapist chooses, the main goal is to release the pressure from the median nerve and to reduce the amount of swelling, inflammation, damage and scar tissue in the patient’s wrist and carpal tunnel. By releasing the pressure on the median nerve, carpal tunnel symptoms are alleviated.

By healing the tissue damage in and around the carpal tunnel, we’re able to minimize the chance of pain, loss of motion, atrophy, and loss of grip strength and hand control.

5 treatments for carpal tunnel

  1. Rest: Rest is important for initial healing because without an appropriate amount of rest the patient is at risk for increased inflammation, pain and re-injury of their wrist. Unfortunately, carpal tunnel can be caused by repetitive injury done in the workplace, so it may be impossible to have complete rest, which leads to the importance of physical therapy treatments in looking to alleviate the symptoms of CTS.
  2. Splinting: A removable wrist splint (brace) is usually the first course of action in treatment. The splint is able to keep the wrist at a neutral angle without applying any force over the carpal tunnel, which lowers the pressure on the nerve in the wrist. Sometimes, this may actually cure the problem if used for a few weeks. However, it is common that the splint helps alleviate symptoms and further treatment is required to heal the injury.
  3. Cold Compression Therapy: The cold compression therapy wraps have an active temperature exchange unit that maintains cool temperature and compression to the wrist, which immediately reduces swelling and helps reduce pain and inflammation. This immediate reduction in swelling aids in reducing pressure on the nerve in the wrist, which causes pain in the carpal tunnel.
  4. Low Level Laser Therapy: A recent study published with the National Center for Biotechnology showed that low level laser therapy significantly improved grip strength, functionality and lowered pain in carpal tunnel patients.
  5. Ultrasound Therapy: Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves directed toward the inflamed area of the wrist. The sound waves are converted into heat in the deep tissues of the hand, which opens the blood vessels and allows oxygen to be delivered to the injured tissue. Ultrasound is often performed along with nerve and tendon exercises.

In the United States, people spend an average of 444 minutes every day looking at screens, or 7.4 hours. That breaks down to 147 minutes spent watching TV, 103 minutes in front of a computer, 151 minutes on a smartphones and 43 minutes with a tablet. This kind of lifestyle creates more risk for developing carpel tunnel syndrome. It’s important for patients to seek treatment early when CTS is reversible in order to avoid the complications of wrist surgery.