Ice or Heat for Carpal Tunnel??
When Carpal Tunnel pain begins to flare up, you may be wondering, “Should I use Ice or Heat for Carpal Tunnel?” Not every ailment or syndrome requires the same temperate treatment. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both, and answer your concern: Should I Use Ice or Heat for Carpal Tunnel?
Ice is the preferred method for alleviating the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel. A study entitled, “Effect of Heat, Cold, and Pressure on the Transverse Carpal Ligament and Median Nerve: A Pilot Study” in 2015, concluded that “Application of cold to the hand may reduce compression of the carpal ligament and nerve.”
Here’s a deeper dive into why that is the case.
PROS OF USING ICE TO TREAT CARPAL TUNNEL
- Ice therapy is typically used to reduce swelling. As Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by the inflammation of the Carpal Tunnel, putting pressure on the Median Nerve (the pain you feel from CTS), icing the area may temporarily reduce this inflammation, thus relieving pain.
- If the cause of your CTS is tissue inflammation, ice will reduce this inflammation.
- Ice therapy reduces blood flow to a particular area, which can significantly reduce inflammation and swelling especially around a joint or a tendon.
- It can temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can also relieve pain.
- Ice therapy can temporarily numb pain by causing blood vessels to constrict.
CONS OF USING ICE TO TREAT CARPAL TUNNEL
You should not use ice therapy if you have another condition, such as cold intolerance or Raynaud’s disease where use of ice is not recommended.
Heat therapy, generally speak is used to relax muscles. Heat helps loosen tense muscles, which contributes to pain relief.
Heat also increases blood flow which can help promote healing. This can, in some cases be helpful to relieve CTS pain. Here’s why:
PROS OF USING HEAT TO TREAT CARPAL TUNNEL
- Heat can bring in fresh oxygen and help improve blood flow to your median nerve.
- Heat can also soothe sore muscles around your wrist and hand.
- Increases nerve circulation.
- Increases blood flow transiently to make the carpal tunnel symptoms lessen.
- The increased blood flow from heat therapy is known to promote the body’s natural healing process.
CONS OF USING HEAT TO TREAT CARPAL TUNNEL
Too much heat can increase swelling within the carpal canal and lead to increased pressure on the median nerve worsening your symptoms.
Too much heat and the nerve may engorge or get swollen and the pressure in the canal rises.
With either temperature treatment for Carpal Tunnel, it is important to avoid extreme temperatures. It’s normal for your skin to look a little pinker after using cold or heat. Before resuming temperature treatment, let your skin return to its normal color and temperature.
If you see any of the following signs after treatment, call your doctor. The following are signs that the temperature was too extreme:
- Purple, dark red, spotty red or white color on skin
Icing Therapy – Technique Matters
There are better ways to do cold therapy for your hand and wrist. Here are some common examples of what not to do.
Direct Ice on the skin is never a good idea. It does not apply the cold therapy uniformly and it will lead to skin damage and ice burns.
Simply putting a cold pack on your hand or wrist does not provide enough cooling action on the full surface area and it can also lead to ice burns and skin damage.
Full submersion of the hand wrist and part of the forearm in an ice bath for 20 to 25 minutes is best. It achieves the maximum benefit of Cold Therapy. Most people error on the side of making the ice bath too cold. It is best to achieve a consistent target temperature for cold therapy of around 45 to 51 degrees Fahrenheit for the full 20 – 25 minutes.
Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy
It can also be helpful to apply alternating Ice and heat therapy. In this case you place you hand up to the forearm in a pitcher of warm water and hold it there for two minutes. Then you place you hand in chilled or ice Water ( between 45 and 51 degrees F) ( 7 and 10 degrees C) and hold it for 2 minutes. You keep alternating between hot therapy and cold therapy for 15 to 20 minutes for 2 minutes in each bath. This alternating hot and cold therapy can help to jump start circulation to hand which disperses inflammation and infuses the hand with full nutrient rich blood circulation. It is important to do deep breathing during any icing or heat therapy to maximize the benefit with amply oxygenation of the blood. Some people do shallow breathing when they are coping with discomfort or tenseness. Make sure you practice deep diaphragm breathing as often as you can, but especially when doing cold or hot therapy or alternating hot or cold therapy.