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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : Are there any remedies for carpal tunnel syndrome? I am also suffering from type 2 diabetes and am on insulin.
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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March 28, 2011
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A:

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the median nerve is compressed as it travels through a narrow portion of the wrist. (This section is called the carpal tunnel.) Common symptoms include numbness and tingling in the fingers, as well as weakness of the thumb.

Many conditions can put a person at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (or other causes of wrist arthritis)
  • Injury to the wrist, such as fracture or repetitive trauma (as seen with jackhammer operators)
  • Alcoholism

Treatment options include:

  • Wrist splints
    It may be helpful to rest the wrist in a position that provides maximal space for the median nerve. Wrist splints are often worn only at night. This helps prevent bending the wrist during sleep. This bending may worsen the symptoms.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
    These drugs can reduce inflammation in the wrist and provide pain relief.
  • Cortisone injections
    This medicine can reduce inflammation and swelling in the carpal tunnel. However, the improvement does not tend to last long.
  • Surgery
    A minor operation can relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome by providing the median nerve with more space. This treatment is usually considered only after other treatments have failed.

Reversing or treating any contributing conditions can also be helpful. For example, treating rheumatoid arthritis may prevent the worsening of symptoms or reduce existing symptoms. So can tightly controlling diabetes. And an ergonomic evaluation of your workspace may help. For example, your chair and desk can be positioned so you can avoid excessive wrist flexing or extension.

If symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are not well controlled, nerve injury may become permanent. So, see your doctor about your condition and review all of these treatment options.

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