Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: 3 Helpful Exercises

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common nerve injury affecting adults.  More than 3 million Americans are diagnosed each year.  Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in women and is associated with many other conditions.  Common conditions linked to carpal tunnel syndrome include neck pain, diabetes, and pregnancy.  Workplace factors also contribute.  Performing repetitive wrist and finger movements such as typing, nursing, and cleaning all increase pressure and stress within the carpal tunnel.  Surgery is a very effective treatment choice.  However, many people do not realize exercises also help people with mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome results from irritation or compression of the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.  The tendons which bend the fingers also pass through this tunnel.  Repetitive wrist and hand movements increase swelling and pressure within the tunnel.  As the tendons swell and thicken they restrict blood flow to the nerve.  Nerves require blood and movement or they will start to act funny.  When the median nerve acts up, you experience pain or numbness and tingling in your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers.  Symptoms are likely worse at night or when repetitive movements are performed.  Both these situations increase pressure within the tunnel.

A Proven Approach to Manage Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Thankfully, multiple research studies have proved exercise reduces symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.  These exercises gently move the tendons and nerve within the tunnel.  Movement reduces swelling within the tunnel and restores blood flow to the irritated nerve.  When performed regularly for several weeks symptoms will begin to diminish.  Also, combining exercise with night splints enhances results in many people.  The exercises are easy to perform and do not require a great deal of time.  The following 3 videos show some of the more common exercises physical therapists prescribe.

Tendon Gliding Exercises

Gentle movement of the tendons within the carpal tunnel improves blood flow to the irritated tendons and nerve.  To perform tendon gliding exercises, sit upright in a chair with your elbow bent resting on a pillow.  Your hand is positioned in front of your face.  Your fingers begin in a straight position.  You then sequentially move through a hook, fist, table top, and straight fist position.  Hold each position for 2 to 3 seconds.  Perform at least 10 repetitions in each position 2 to 3 times per day.

Nerve Gliding Exercises

Nerve gliding exercises slide the median nerve back forth within the carpal tunnel.  This improves mobility and blood flow to the irritated nerve.  These exercises should be performed gently with minimal to no pain or tingling.

The first exercise involves movement of your wrist and fingers.  Sit upright in a chair with your elbow bent resting on a pillow.  Your hand is positioned in front of your face.  Your fingers begin in a closed fist position.  You then sequentially move through 5 steps.  First straighten the fingers fully.  Second, extend the wrist back.  Third, separate your thumb from the other 4 fingers.  Fourth, turn your forearm so your palm is facing you.  Finally, apply gently pressure with your other hand to stretch the thumb back.  Hold each position for 2 to 3 seconds.  Perform at least 10 repetitions in each position 2 to 3 times per day.

The second exercise involves movement of the elbow and wrist.  This exercise results in the greatest amount of movement of the nerve within the carpal tunnel.  Stand with your arm stretched out to your side.  The elbow is straight, palm up, and fingers straight.  Imagine you are holding a plate of food in your hand.  The movement involves simultaneously bending your elbow and extending your wrist.  You want to continue imagining you are holding a pate in your hand as you move back and forth.  Perform at least 10 repetitions 2 to 3 times per day.

Start Today

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can range from an annoyance to debilitating pain.  In many people it severely disturbs sleep and the ability to carry out routine daily activities.  Regular exercise can alleviate much of the distress.  In order to achieve the best results, exercises should be performed multiple times each day.  Infrequent or random exercise will do little good.  Give these 3 exercises a shot for at least 6 weeks and see how things are going.  If you want more help give us a call.  Our physical therapists can help you find the right exercises for you and supplement these with massage and other manual therapy treatments.   You don’t have to keep suffering and you have options other than surgery.


Subscribe to Our Newsletter and Receive Similar Articles

Want to move better without pain? Join thousands of others who subscribe to our newsletter and get exclusive access to more helpful tips and exercises. Here's an example issue of our newsletter, so you can get a preview of what you are signing up for.

* indicates required