What Happens if You Don't Treat Carpal Tunnel?

Ask a Doctor

I’ve been having mild pain in my left wrist and forearm off and on for a couple weeks. I went to the doctor for a checkup and asked about it since I was there. After an examination, he told me I had carpal tunnel syndrome and I should start treatment for the pain symptoms right away. The thing is, I hate taking pills and my wife had to finally convince me to even go in for the checkup because I hate going to doctors (no offense). Can I just deal with it and not bother with treatment? The pain isn’t that bad or that often. What happens if you don’t treat carpal tunnel?

Doctor’s Response

If carpal tunnel syndrome is not treated, symptoms may worsen or last longer. The earlier the issue is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. If you only have mild carpal tunnel symptoms, home care may be the only treatment needed. Home remedies include:

Other non-surgical treatments include physical therapy, steroid injections, ultrasound therapy, and yoga. Carpal tunnel syndrome is not primarily an inflammatory process. However, pain is a common complaint, and anti-inflammatory medications are sometimes used to try to treat the pain. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) may provide some relief but are unlikely to cure carpal tunnel syndrome. Direct injection of steroid medication by your doctor into the carpal canal has been shown to be an effective treatment for some people with carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a procedure that can be done in the doctor's office with only minimal discomfort.

Physical therapy can be particularly useful after carpal tunnel surgery. Therapy can reduce swelling, stiffness, and pain after surgery. Therapy can also help to restore strength after surgery. Not everyone needs therapy after surgery, but for some, it can be very helpful.

Avoiding smoking, maintaining an appropriate weight, and regularly exercising may help prevent the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Modification of workstations, keyboards, and tools has been attempted to try to prevent the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Whether these ergonomic interventions help is unknown. Appropriate treatment of wrist arthritis, when present, can prevent or treat carpal tunnel syndrome.

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William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR coauthored this article.


Milind J Kothari, DO. Carpal tunnel syndrome: Treatment and prognosis. 13 November 2018. 28 December 2018 .