Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there is pressure on the median nerve in the wrist’s carpal tunnel. As pressure increases, symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and weakness worsen. Performing exercises regularly can help restore some function to the affected wrist and alleviate some of the effects.
While these exercises will place some pressure on the hand, wrist, and forearm, they should not hurt. Before performing movements for wrist issues, consult with a doctor or physical therapist to ensure you're doing them correctly and not exacerbating the problem. Additionally, it can help to apply heat to the hand before performing each exerciset and use an ice pack afterward. Doing this helps prevent both inflammation and injury.
You can perform wrist extensions throughout the day, though it is most important to do so before activity. Straighten the arm, bending back the wrist as if making the “stop” hand sign. Use the opposite hand to gently pull the fingers back until there is a stretching sensation in the forearm. Hold this stretch for 15 seconds, then relax the stretch and repeat four more times. Switch arms and repeat.
This exercise is similar to the wrist extension stretch, but with the opposite motion. Straighten the arm and bend the wrist, pointing the back of the hand forward and the fingers down. Use the opposite hand to pull the extended hand toward the chest until there is a stretching sensation on the outside of the forearm. Hold this for 15 seconds and repeat four additional times. Perform the stretch on the other arm, as well.
The median nerve is the only nerve that travels through the carpal tunnel, making these exercises particularly important. Create a fist with one hand. Take that arm and place it against the chest, setting the hand near the heart. Slowly straighten out the arm, relaxing the wrist and fingers as it straightens. Turn the forearm away from the body and extend it out to the side, keeping the fingers pointed. Slowly raise that arm to shoulder-height, leaning the head to the opposite side. Repeat the exercise three to five times, making sure to never stay in one position for too long.
Form a fist with the palm facing you, and then extend the fingers, keeping the thumb to the side. Lean the hand backward while keeping the fingers straight, until the palm is facing up. Maintaining the fingers and wrist's positions, extend the thumb as far as is comfortable. Holding this position, rotate the wrist so the forearm and palm are facing away from you. Using the other hand, pull on the thumb to gently stretch the hand. Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times a day on both hands.
When performing the tendon glides, hold each position for three seconds before moving to the next. Feel free to increase the number of reps as the exercises become easier, but strive for at least 10 to 15 reps, two to three times each day. Start by extending the fingers on one hand, keeping the thumb tight to the side. The hand and wrist should be completely straight. Bend the fingers into a slight “hook” shape, with the knuckles pointing upward. Finish by forming a complete fist.
Start in the same position as the first tendon glide, keeping the fingers, hand, and wrist straight. Gently bend the bottom knuckles, keeping the rest of each finger straight. This should place some pressure on the forearm and wrist, but the wrist should barely bend. Finish by bending the fingers at their middle joints, touching their tips to the palm.
This exercise requires a rubber band or similar tool. Pinch the fingers and thumb together on one hand, keeping them all straight. Place the rubber band around the outside of the fingers and thumb. Slowly spread the fingers apart, taking care not to let the rubber band fall off. Repeat this up to 40 times or until the fingers tire.
When performing these exercises, never ignore signs of pain or extreme discomfort. While the exercises apply some pressure, they should never be painful. The nerve gliding exercises are helpful for most people, but also may worsen symptoms in some cases. Stop and speak to a doctor or physical therapist if an exercise becomes too uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, medical experts believe that the exercises are not enough to improve carpal tunnel symptoms such as pain or numbness. They are most effective in combination with other treatment methods, such as wrist braces or lifestyle changes. If a person’s carpal tunnel is severe enough, they likely require surgery to see any improvement. After surgery, the exercises can help prevent nerve scarring and heal trauma to the wrist.
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