Carpal tunnel is a massive pain in your fingers and wrists. Literally. Whether you sit at a desk and type for a living, constantly lift and move things, or play an instrument, you’ve likely dealt with at least a day or two of carpal tunnel symptoms before. So have around three to six percent of all Americans. However, if you’ve tried medication and still have more flares than good days, it might be time to rethink your tactics.
When dealing with a pinched or compressed nerve, sometimes, motion is the best cure. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of the best carpal tunnel exercises that you can perform. These exercises can help alleviate your pain whether you’re suffering acute carpal tunnel, chronic carpal tunnel syndrome, or recovering from surgery on your hand or wrist.
First, Let’s Start With a Simple Warm-Up
As with any form of exercise, you should always start with a warm-up. Warming up improves blood flow to the muscles and can also prevent your nerves and tendons from becoming further damaged. Given how many muscles and nerves are at play in your hands and wrists, it’s important to make sure they’re ready to move before you start exercising them.
To warm up your wrists and hands, you should:
- Rotate your wrist up and down, then side to side four times
- Stretch your fingers as far apart as you can before relaxing them four times
- Gently pull your thumb back, hold it, then release it four times
Once you’re done with these preliminary stretches, it’s time to give these carpal tunnel exercises a try.
Exercise One: The Wrist Extension
Let’s go over the steps of the wrist extension exercise. This simple motion can be done seated or standing, up to four times each day.
First, hold your arm in front of you at around shoulder height. (Make sure you don’t lock the elbow when doing this.) Bend your wrist back as if telling someone to stop. Then, pull your palm back with your other hand until you can feel the stretch in your forearm and hold that pose for fifteen seconds. Repeat the exercise five times, then switch to the other arm and repeat five times again.
What This Does for You
This exercise helps release tension in your wrist by stretching the muscles of your inner forearm. This means you can also use it to help alleviate pain in the forearm itself that may not be from carpal tunnel syndrome.
Exercise Two: The Wrist Flexion
For the second in our list of carpal tunnel syndrome exercises, let’s look at the wrist flexion. Like the wrist extension, this exercise can be done seated or standing up to four times every day.
As before, hold your arm in front of you at around shoulder height while not locking your elbow. This time, turn your palms to face downward and bend your wrist and fingers towards the floor as far as you can. Use your free hand to pull the bent hand towards the body until you can feel the stretch in the outer forearm and hold that position for fifteen seconds. Repeat five times, then swap arms, and repeat again.
What This Does for You
The flexion helps to relieve tension in your outer forearm as opposed to your inner. If you’ve done both of these in sequence, your forearms should feel nice and loose.
Exercise Three: The Median Nerve Glide
The median nerve glide, as one might expect, helps to relieve tension on compressed nerves like the median nerve. Since most orthopedic surgeons recommend applying a warm compress to your hand around fifteen minutes before doing this stretch, it might be best saved for a break time during your workday.
To do this stretch properly, make one hand into a fist, keeping your thumb on the outside. Then, uncurl your fingers, stretching them and the thumb out straight. (Make sure to do this while keeping the thumb pressed to the side of your hand!) Afterward, bend your hand back towards your forearm and extend the thumb to the side.
After that, use your other hand to apply pressure to the thumb, stretching it. Hold this position (and each of the others mentioned previously) for around three to seven seconds. Release all tension, then repeat the exercise on the other hand. If you have a cold compress ready, placing one on your hands after this exercise may help to prevent inflammation.
Exercise Four: Tendon Glides
Tendon glides will help to exercise and stretch the tendons in the carpal tunnel. This makes them one of the most effective hand exercises for carpal tunnel symptoms. However, like the median nerve glides above, you may want to have a warm and cold compress handy before and after the exercise.
To do this exercise, bend your elbow so your forearm points up. Straighten out your fingers and thumb so that they’re all pointing up. Bend your fingers into a hook shape, then a fist, laying your thumb atop the fist when done. Hold each position for around three seconds, then repeat.
You can do this exercise one hand at a time or save time by doing both at once. It depends on what you’re comfortable with!
Exercise Five: Wrist Lifts
Wrist lifts are an excellent exercise for those stuck at their desks, as they use the desk itself as a platform. To do this exercise, lay one of your palms flat on your desk. Place your other hand on top of the first so that your knuckles form right angles with one another. Lift the bottom hand’s fingers while you press down with the top hand, swap hand positions, and repeat.
Exercise Six: Hand Squeezes
If you’ve ever needed a proper use for that company-issued stress ball, this is the perfect exercise for you. Grab your favorite stress ball in one hand. Then, squeeze it as tight as you can for five seconds and release the tension. Repeat this motion for three sets of ten repetitions before swapping to the other hand.
This is a fantastic way to relieve your carpal tunnel symptoms while also taking out some tension or aggression at your workplace. It’s a win-win!
Exercise Seven: Wrist Stretches With Weights
Since the following carpal tunnel exercises involve weights, you won’t be able to do them at work. Nor should you attempt these immediately after a surgical procedure, as they put more strain on your wrists than necessary. For this exercise, you can use a small weight or a can of beans to get the desired effect.
To do this exercise, hold the weight in your hand, palm down, and extend the arm so that it’s straight in the front. Bring your hand up and down towards your arm, bending at the wrist, then return to the starting position. Make sure you don’t go too fast as you do three sets of ten repetitions a piece. Then, swap to your other hand and repeat the process.
These exercises help you to stretch out and build strength in your wrists. If you’re already experiencing severe pain in the wrist, you might want to opt-out of this one.
Exercise Eight: Shake It Off
No, we’re not just making a cheeky reference to Taylor Swift’s famous song. For this exercise, all you have to do is shake your hands out like you’re drying them in the bathroom and don’t have a towel. That’s all.
This simple motion releases tension from your flexor muscles and median nerve, keeping them from getting cramped or tight. In laymen’s terms? That means fewer carpal tunnel symptoms and less pain for you.
Exercise Nine: Prayer Hands
Anyone who’s attended church or a yoga class has done this exercise before. To conduct the prayer hands exercise, all you need to do is place your palms together in front of your chest but beneath your chin. (Sort of like you would if you were praying.) Then, lower your hands towards your waist. Keep them close to your stomach and force your palms to stick together for as long as possible.
Once you feel a moderate stretch in your forearms, hold that pose for fifteen to thirty seconds. Then, repeat the exercise around two to four times. It’s a simple but effective forearm stretch that you can do anywhere at any time.
Exercise Ten: Fist Transformations
This exercise combines two common hand warm-up exercises into one. You can use this as a warm-up, a cool-down, or anywhere in your carpal tunnel relief exercises. They’re easy to do and can be done at your desk or standing.
First, you turn your fist into a fan. You do this by balling your fist up as tight as you can. Then, stretch your fingers out as wide as you can before balling them into a fist again. Repeat this motion anywhere from five to ten times on both hands.
Afterward, turn your fist into a stop sign. Once again, ball your fist as tight as it will go. Then, slowly slide your fingers up until you’re making the universal “stop” gesture and bring them back into a tight fist. As before, repeat this exercise anywhere from five to ten times on both hands.
You can do these exercises hand by hand or on both hands at once. It depends on whether you’re trying to alleviate your symptoms in one hand or prevent them from arising in both.
What Other Options Do You Have?
Let’s say that you’ve tried all of these hand exercises for carpal tunnel and your symptoms still give you grief. What, then, are your options? Here are a few of the things you might turn to for succor if your symptoms still cause you to have issues:
While it’s understandable to avoid relying on pain medication, it can help you manage your symptoms. If your carpal tunnel pain is mild to moderate, over-the-counter pain medications should suffice for your symptoms. If your symptoms are more severe, then it may be time to speak with your doctor about getting something stronger.
Taking Regular Rest Breaks
So many of us suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome without giving ourselves any time to rest. It’s little wonder our symptoms get so bad when we use our hands nonstop! Make sure you’re taking a break from using your hands where you can and doing small stretches to relieve tension.
Hot and Cold Compresses
Never underestimate the value of a good hot or cold compress for pain and inflammation management. Warm compresses work best when you first wake up or on cold days, as these can increase blood flow and help prevent cramping. However, cold compresses help to reduce tendon pain and prevent inflammation after exercise. Make sure you use the right temperature at the right time, or you might worsen your symptoms.
In the most severe cases of carpal tunnel, surgical intervention may be required. This method should be seen as a last resort, as it can prove expensive if your insurance doesn’t cover it. However, it can also prove life-changing if it succeeds where all other methods have failed.
Do Your Carpal Tunnel Symptoms Leave You Frustrated?
Dealing with carpal tunnel is one of the worst chronic conditions any worker or parent can have. While the carpal tunnel exercises we listed above can help you manage your symptoms, they aren’t a permanent fix. If you or someone you love has been struggling for too long with carpal tunnel syndrome and the pain it causes, we can help.
The Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas are the most trusted hand and finger surgery clinic in Houston. We’re more than happy to let our experts give you the pain relief that you deserve. Reach out to us today for a consultation and start living your life without wrist or hand pain!