Carpal Tunnel Exercises
Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: An Overview
There are several different treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome. Exercises are one option often recommended by healthcare providers or physical therapists.
Carpal tunnel exercises are designed to stretch the forearm muscles and reduce tension on tendons that pass through the carpal tunnel. They may also help strengthen the muscles. Exercise by itself may be helpful for treating carpal tunnel syndrome, but is probably most helpful when combined with other carpal tunnel treatment options, including splinting and activity modifications. Make sure to talk with your healthcare provider or physical therapist about exercises that make the most sense in your particular situation. Some exercises are only recommended after symptoms have improved.
Many of these same exercises may also help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome in the first place. If you perform a job that keeps your hands in one position, you may want to incorporate these preventive exercises into your daily routine.
Tendon gliding and median nerve-gliding exercises are two types of exercises that may help with carpal tunnel syndrome. These exercises are thought to relieve pressure on the median nerve and stretch the carpal ligaments, which also helps decrease pressure. They are also thought to help blood flow out of the carpal tunnel, which can help decrease fluid pressure.
Research on the benefits of these exercises has been mixed. Some research has shown that these carpal tunnel exercises can improve symptoms and decrease the need for surgery. Other studies have shown improvements in grip strength, but no other effects on symptoms. People with mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome seem to benefit the most from these exercises.
Fist Flexion Exercises
Fist flexion exercises (also known as tendon-gliding exercises) move your fingers through five positions while your wrist stays in a neutral position (meaning it is not bent). To perform this exercise, do the following:
Start with your fingers straight
Make a hook fist and then return to a straight hand
Make a straight fist and then return to a straight hand
Make a full fist and then return to a straight hand.
Hold each position for seven seconds, and do 10 repetitions. Repeat three times to five times a day.
Median Nerve-Gliding Exercises
For median nerve-gliding exercises, you move your thumb through six positions while your wrist stays in a neutral position. To perform this exercise, do the following:
Begin by making a fist with your wrist in the neutral position
Straighten your fingers and thumb
Bend your wrist back and move your thumb away from your palm
Turn your wrist palm up
Use your other hand to gently pull your thumb farther away from your palm.
Hold each position for seven seconds, and do five repetitions. Repeat three to five times a day.
Other Carpal Tunnel Exercises
After doing repetitive movements for awhile, you can sometimes cancel out the effects of those movements by flexing and bending your wrists and hands in the opposite direction. For example, after typing with your wrist and hand extended, it is helpful to make a tight fist and hold it for a second, then fan out the fingers and hold for a few seconds. Repeat this five times.
You can also stretch the neck and shoulder muscles. While standing, place your left hand on top of your right shoulder. Hold that shoulder down while tipping your head to the left. Keep your head looking forward, and hold for five seconds. You should repeat this stretch on the other side.
Shoulder shrugs may also help. For this exercise, stand with your arms at your side. Then raise your shoulders straight up, squeeze your shoulders back, then stretch your shoulders down, then move them forward. It should take 7 to 10 seconds per rotation. Repeat five times.