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How to Use Ice and Heat for Carpal Tunnel Relief

by Patty Weasler, RN September 20, 2019 0 Comments

When used in combination with other treatment options, ice and heat for carpal tunnel syndrome can help control the pain and stiffness of the condition. Over time, this treatment can even speed recovery by increasing blood flow and loosening ligaments in the hand and wrist. Learn more about hot and cold therapy techniques in our comprehensive guides.

Cold Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Ice therapy reduces blood flow to the carpal tunnel area when applied to the wrist. This process is called vasoconstriction and can help manage swelling, to allow the median nerve to glide more smoothly through the carpal tunnel. By constricting the blood vessels, cold therapy slows nerve activity, numbing hand pain and making it a good choice to use in combination with other treatments.

When to Use Ice

Because of cold therapy’s ability to numb pain, it is best used immediately after performing carpal tunnel exercises. This can allow you to stretch the carpal ligament and strengthen the wrist muscles, while keeping pain and swelling at bay.

Cold therapy is also effective during the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome. By managing inflammation during the first weeks it will be easier to stop the condition from getting worse.

Tips for Using Ice Therapy

To get the full benefits of ice therapy, it’s important to apply it to the wrist properly. Keep these tips in mind for the best results:

  • Apply for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, followed by a half hour break between sessions.
  • Avoid direct contact between skin and your ice pack. Try wrapping it in a towel first.
  • Apply ice therapy as soon as possible after experiencing wrist pain.
  • Never use cold therapy while sleeping, immediately before physical activity, or near an open wound.

Ways to Apply Cold Therapy

There are many ways to try ice therapy for yourself. See which of the following are best for your carpal tunnel syndrome.

Cold Pack

With the help of an ice pack, you can apply cold therapy to the wrist for as long as needed. Start with 15 minute sessions, wrapping the cold pack in a towel and applying directly to the underside of the wrist. If you want to reapply, wait at least 30 minutes between sessions. Apply no more than 4 times per day, and check your skin throughout for irritation or discoloration.

Cold Massage

Cold massage combines the blood flow regulation of ice therapy with the therapeutic benefits of carpal tunnel massage. With a cold massage roller you can use an ergonomic grip to work the deep tissues in the arm and wrist, while the cold hand roller is a good way to reduce tension while managing carpal tunnel pain.

    Ice Therapy Machine

    Our ice therapy machine is made to deliver cold therapy to legs and arms, and can even target the carpal ligament. To use, simply fill the included bucket with ice water, wrap the universal therapy pad around your arm, and choose your settings for customized cold therapy. Use the smallest of the three therapy pads for a snug fit to the arm.

    Heat Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

    Unlike ice therapy, heat therapy relaxes the blood vessels and increases blood flow. This can be beneficial as it helps deliver oxygen to healing muscles, letting the body recover from injury faster. It is also an effective way to manage wrist pain in the short-term.

    Keep in mind that heat therapy should be used with caution, as overexposure can worsen inflammation and swelling. Follow our heat therapy tips below to learn how to get the best effect.

    When to Use Heat

    Heat therapy’s ability to increase blood flow and loosen muscles makes it a good choice to use before physical activity. It can also increase the effectiveness of carpal tunnel exercises if used before hand and make muscles more pliable for massage techniques. Otherwise, use heat therapy sparingly when treating carpal tunnel syndrome to avoid unwanted side effects.

    Tips for Using Heat Therapy

    Heat therapy should be used in moderation when treating carpal tunnel syndrome as the increased blood flow and exacerbate inflammation. Be sure to follow these guidelines when using heat therapy:

    • Never apply heat therapy to a wrist that is visibly red or swollen.
    • Apply for 20 to 60 minutes per session, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
    • Don’t use heat therapy on a new wound or recent pull.
    • To avoid skin irritation or burns, avoid heat therapy while sleeping.
    • Try using simple self massage techniques with heat.

    Ways to Apply Heat

    Heat therapy can be applied in a number of different ways. Learn more about some of the most effective here.

    Heating Pad

    The advantage of a heating pad is its ability to provide gentle heat therapy with a range of settings that let you tailor the treatment to your needs. To use, simply apply the pad to the wrist, starting with the lowest temperature and working your way up. Start with 20 minute sessions, taking a half hour break between.

    Warm Water

    A warm water bath is an effective way to deliver moist heat therapy to the wrist arm. The benefit of moist heat therapy is that it retains moisture and promotes tissue elasticity. It is also able to penetrate deeper into the skin.

    To try it for yourself, fill a bucket with warm to hot water. The temperature should not burn the skin, but be able to penetrate deeply into the tissue. Soak your wrist for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

    Heat Massage

    By using our hot and cold massage set, it’s possible to combine the benefits of heat therapy with carpal tunnel massage. This four piece set is designed to retain heat, delivering therapy to the deep tissue with a studded surface.

    Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy

    Hot and cold therapy are most effective when used in conjunction, allowing you to treat the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome without worsening inflammation or stiffness. The method below will help boost circulation in the wrist and hand while also dispersing inflammation.

    One method for alternating therapy uses two water baths--one filled with warm water (90-100 degrees F) and the other with cool (45-50 degrees F). Start by soaking the wrist in warm water for two minutes, then soaking in the cool water for two minutes. Alternate between the two for a total of 20 minutes.

    Learn More About Alternating Hot & Cold Therapy for Injuries

    Cold vs Heat

    For most patients, alternating therapy will offer the best balance between symptom relief and a safe recovery. Talk to a health care professional before beginning hot or cold therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome. Try it with a range of other treatments to help manage symptoms, aid pain relief, and to prevent injury during recovery. 

    Remember, always talk to your doctor before starting a new treatment regimen; and if pain persists (or worsens) stop immediately and seek medical advice.

    Sources:

    https://www.mycarpaltunnel.com/carpal-tunnel-faq/ice-or-heat-for-pain/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4335578/

    https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain/treating-pain-with-heat-and-cold#applying-cold-therapy

      SHOP CARPAL TUNNEL PRODUCTS
      Patty Weasler, RN
      Patty Weasler, RN

      Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.



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