So you’ve tried wearing a splint on your wrist at night, maybe used some self-massage on your hand and forearm, put ice and heat alternately on your wrist, and you’re still struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) symptoms of pain, numbness, and tingling. What now? If other non-invasive treatments have not brought relief, your physician might offer steroid injections as the next step in your treatment process. Injections of any kind can be a little disconcerting, but understanding what steroids are and why they work, how the procedure typically goes, how long the treatment lasts, and what side effects you might experience will help you decide if steroid injections are the best next step toward resolving your carpal tunnel symptoms.
What are steroids and why are they helpful?
Natural steroids are hormones made by your adrenal glands that help manage the effects of inflammation, such as swelling. The man-made steroids used in the treatment of CTS are called corticosteroids, and they can be administered by tablet or by injection, though injection has been proven more effective in resolving CTS symptoms. Steroid injections are helpful because they reduce the inflammation and swelling of tissue around the median nerve in the wrist. The relief of pressure on the median nerve decreases pain and numbness.
How does the injection process work and how long until I get some relief?
The injection is made into the carpal tunnel in the wrist, and research shows that ultrasound can be used to improve a physician’s ability to position the needle so that the risk of injury to the median nerve is minimized and the steroids reach the carpal tunnel without injuring nearby tissue. Almost half of patients who undergo steroid injections for CTS find relief from their symptoms in less than a month after the procedure.
How long does the steroid injection last, and are there any side effects?
While steroid injections might completely resolve CTS symptoms, often their beneficial effect wears off within two and a half months. For those with persistent CTS symptoms, surgery might be the next step in treatment, though some people continue with the steroid injections for a while despite the increased risk of tendon or nerve damage.
As for side effects, minor to moderate pain in the hand is common but usually goes away in a few days. Infection can also be an unwanted side effect as can more serious side effects like nerve damage. However, serious complications are very rare.
What about oral steroids?
If your physician prescribes an oral corticosteroid, you probably are experiencing CTS symptoms for the first time, and you’ll likely take the tablets for less than a two-week period. Taking a corticosteroid tablet can have unwanted side effects like stomach upset, skin troubles, and/or weight gain. Sometimes, though, corticosteroid tablets rather than injections are prescribed if the CTS symptoms are not too severe.
If non-invasive treatments for CTS haven’t worked for you, don’t give up hope. Doctorpedia provides resources like articles and videos so you can understand what questions to ask your doctor to determine the best next step for you. Corticosteroid injections might be the perfect solution for resolving your CTS!
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: How effective are corticosteroid treatments? (2017). InformedHealth.org. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279598/
- Lee, J.Y., Park, Y., Park, K.D., Lee, J.K., & Lim, O.K. (2014). Effectiveness of ultrasound-guided carpal tunnel injection using in-plane ulnar approach. Medicine (Baltimore) 93(29), e350. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4602597/
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.