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Home Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Home Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
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Exercises for your hands and wrists can help alleviate pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Learn more from Union Health Orthopedics.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that causes pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the hand and arm. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a major nerve in the hand, the median nerve, is pinched inside the narrow part of the wrist called the carpal tunnel.

The median nerve travels from the upper arm, elbow and forearm through the carpal tunnel and into the hand and fingers. The median nerve allows for feeling in the fingers and controls muscles in the thumb.

Patients with carpal tunnel syndrome often have impaired hand and arm functioning that can improve with exercises you can do at home. At Union Health Orthopedics, we understand how carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms make everyday tasks uncomfortable or even painful.

Our board-certified hand surgeons provide expert diagnoses and effective treatment options to help manage and prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. The hand and wrist experts at Union Health Orthopedics help restore hand movement and function for patients experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome.

4 Carpal Tunnel Exercises

Before you begin any carpal tunnel home exercise program, it's important to have an orthopedic specialist or physical therapist show you proper form so you perform the exercises safely. They can also help to develop a targeted exercise program or series of exercises that directly address your carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the following exercises. Except for no. 4, they do not require equipment.

1. Wrist Extension Stretch
  1. Straighten your arm and lift your hand with the palm forward as if signaling "stop."
  2. Use your free hand to pull back gently on your fingers to feel a stretch in your forearm. There shouldn't be any pain.
  3. Hold for 15 seconds, and repeat five times. 
  4. Switch and repeat on the other arm.
2. Wrist Flexion Stretch
  1. Extend your arm straight and bend your wrist so your fingers point down, palm facing you. 
  2. Use your free hand to pull your fingers gently toward your body until you feel a stretch in your forearm. There shouldn't be any pain. 
  3. Hold for 15 seconds, and repeat five times. 
  4. Switch and repeat on the other arm.
3. Prayer Stretch
  1. Begin with your palms pressed together under your chin. 
  2. Slowly lower both hands to your waist, keeping your palms together. You should feel a gentle stretch in your forearm but no pain. 
  3. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat two to four times.
4. Squeeze a Ball
Squeezing a finger exercise ball throughout the day may help build hand finger strength to reduce symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and prevent the condition from worsening.

Squeeze the ball for one second, release and repeat. Perform the exercise throughout the day, 30 seconds to one minute at a time.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often begin slowly and build over time. For many patients, symptoms may worsen during certain activities or while sleeping. During sleep, many people bend their arms and wrists, which can make symptoms worse. Symptoms often differ for every person and can include:
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. For some, these symptoms worsen at night. 
  • Pain in the hand, forearm, or shoulder. The pain may be localized or travel through your arm. 
  • Weakness or instability of the arm or hand. This may make certain fine motor skills, such as buttoning clothes or gripping an item, more difficult.

Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome begins with a physical examination from your orthopedist. During the physical, an orthopedic specialist will conduct a manual exam to find muscle weakness, nerve pain, or tingling in the hand or arm.

Your provider may also use one of these carpal tunnel syndrome tests to diagnose the condition:
  • Electrophysiological tests examine the functioning of your median nerve. These nerve tests help determine the severity and location of carpal tunnel syndrome. These tests also help determine if any other conditions are impacting your nerves. 
  • Ultrasound and medical imaging may be used to see the inside of your wrist and surrounding tissues.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatments Beyond Exercise

In addition to home exercises, your orthopedic provider may recommend one of the following treatments:
  • Activity changes to reduce symptoms and allow the inflamed nerve to heal
  • Bracing the hand and wrist, which prevents bending and reduces pressure on the median nerve
  • Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Physical therapy may involve strengthening exercises and massage to help manage carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms
  • Steroid injections, reduce inflammation
Surgery may be an option for patients who have not had improvements with nonsurgical treatment methods. Carpal tunnel release, as the procedure is called, involves a surgeon cutting a ligament to reduce pressure on the median nerve and make the carpal tunnel larger.

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