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The Most Effective Carpal Tunnel Relief Exercises

by Patty Weasler, RN September 20, 2019 0 Comments

Right hand holding green thera putty

When used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, carpal tunnel exercises and stretches can go a long way toward strengthening the muscles in the wrist and hand. When applied in the early stages of the condition they can promote healthy movement of the median nerve, reduce symptoms, and protect against future incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome. See our guide for ideas on how to get started.

Carpal Tunnel Stretches

Managing carpal tunnel syndrome is about working the muscles in the wrist and hand to help them glide normally over the medial nerve. This helps prevent friction or pinching, which is the cause of the most common symptoms of the condition. When performed properly, carpal tunnel stretches can reduce pain and numbness while increasing flexibility and strength. Follow our guide below to learn effective exercises you can try today. If your pain persists or increases while stretching, stop immediately and talk to your physician about moving forward with your carpal tunnel treatment.

Wrist Stretches

Wrist stretches are a good way to warm up the carpal tunnel at the beginning of each day or before other activities. Try these stretches for yourself.

Median Nerve Glide

Nerve glides are one of the core stretches recommended for carpal tunnel relief, and can be very effective for early to mid-stage carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s easy to perform, simply bend your neck to the right and extend your right arm outward with the palm facing away from you. Then, slowly bend your neck in the opposite direction while flexing the wrist. Repeat this up to 15 times and and try on the left side.

Prayer Stretch

This simple stretch can increase flexibility in the wrist and only takes a few seconds to perform. Start by placing your palms together in front of your chest, fingertips pointed to the ceiling. Then, by turning your wrists in unison, point your fingers as far as they will go toward the floor.

Medial Nerve Stretch

This is another variation on the median nerve glide, which can offer a good stretch all the way down the length of the arm. Begin with your arm straight out in front of you, then bring it back to the side as far as it will go while keeping the chest square in front of you. Finally, extend the wrist backward to glide the median nerve through the carpal tunnel. You can even gently flex the wrist repeatedly.

Hand Stretches

The muscles that control the fingers travel through the carpal tunnel and down the length of the arm. By stretching fingers you can promote healthy wrists and arms as well. Try these hand stretches at home.

Thumb Stretch

Carpal tunnel often affects the first three fingers of the hand, so the thumb is a good place to start stretching. Hold your right palm forward, facing upward. Then, with your opposite hand reach under, grab the thumb, and gently pull it backwards. To enhance the stretch, bring the arm across the body while keeping the elbow straight.

Tendon Glides

Try tendon glides to work the rest of the fingers. Start with your palms facing outward, fingers together and pointing at the ceiling. Glide the fingers downward, by curling the tips and then the knuckles inward to make a fist. Then extend them back upward and repeat several times.

Grip Stretching

Try this stretch if you’re looking for a way to get your hands warmed up for more intense carpal tunnel exercises. While seated, reach your hands into the air and open your hands as wide as your able to. Then close them tight and make a fist. Continue opening and closing your hands quickly for a full minute, until you start feeling the back of your hands warming up.

Carpal Tunnel Exercises

These wrist and hand exercises can help relieve pain and increase range of motion by improving the way the tendon moves through the carpal tunnel. This will keep the hand and fingers functioning normally and decrease common symptoms like tingling and stiffness. Here are a few other exercises you can try.

Wrist Flexion and Extension

Try this exercise with a set of 1lb weights or a common household object like a soup can. We also recommend a wrist brace to keep the carpal tunnel protected. Start with your arm positioned on a chest-level flat surface like a kitchen table. Holding your weight in your hand, allow the wrist to hang off the side of the table. Then return the wrist to neutral position and hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat for three sets of ten.

Arm Circles

Arm circles are a simple exercise that can work the medial nerve while while strengthening the entire arm. Standing up, extend your arms out to either side and begin making small circles in a rowing motion. After 10 seconds, widen the circles gradually. Reverse direction and repeat.

Radial Deviation

You can try this exercise with or without a set of light hand weights. Begin with your arms at your sides, bent at the elbow with two fists pointing forward. Be sure to keep your shoulders back and your chest pointed forward. Then, bend the wrists downward gently and immediately move back to the neutral position. Repeat for three sets of ten

Ulnar Deviation

For this exercise, start in the same position as with the radial deviation, but rotate the arms up at the shoulders, bringing your arms up to the side of your head. Bend the wrists upward and move back to neutral position. Repeat for three sets of ten.

Finger Flexion and Extension

This exercise focuses on the fingers, working each joint in the hand individually in a single, fluid motion. Start with a set of weights in each hand, with your wrist pointed up at the ceiling. Then, lower the wrists gently and uncurl the fingers, keeping your hand weights supported by the tips of your fingers. Pull back up. Repeat for three sets of ten.

Exercise Ball Squeeze

Hand exercise balls are a good way to take an effective exercise on the go. They are made to relieve the stiffness and pain of carpal tunnel syndrome with four resistance levels ranging from extra soft to firm. To use them, simply hold in the flat of your palm, squeeze with your fingers, and hold for ten seconds. There are a range of other exercises to try, making them a very versatile tool.

Try ring grip exercisers for a slightly different take on this squeezing exercise. Their universal size and ergonomic design make them a good choice for anyone.

Finger Thumb Press

This carpal tunnel exercises uses therapy putty to test grip and work the tendons in the forearm. Start by rolling your therapy putty into a ball and pinch between your thumb and forefinger. Squeeze for ten seconds, bringing the fingers together. Then, repeat with each finger on each hand. Over time, you can progress through all four resistance levels, increasing in challenge as you’re ready.

More Ways to Use Therapy Putty

When to Perform Stretches and Exercises

You should try to perform these exercises throughout the day. Take a break every hour or so and perform 2-3 repetitions on each hand. You don’t have to do them all, start by choosing one or two that feel comfortable for you. If stretches and exercises are causing you more pain you should stop immediately and speak with your doctor.

Exercises After Carpal Tunnel Surgery

They key to a smooth recovery after carpal tunnel surgery is to take exercises slow and easy to avoid damaging the sensitive tendons. Even simple day-to-day activities like writing and using a fork can be a challenge in the first two weeks. During this time, limit activity to allow the wrist to heal. Always follow your doctor’s advice when recovering from surgery.

After the first two weeks, simple exercises like the grip stretching and gliding exercises mentioned above can be a good way to lightly stretch the area. Take these stretches slowly, learn how to properly apply ice to relieve pain or swelling and try wearing a wrist brace to prevent injury until the wrist is fully healed.

Relief with Precaution

Talk to your physician if you’re experiencing carpal tunnel symptoms. Getting the right treatment can help manage pain, numbness, and stiffness, while also preventing the condition from getting worse. Stretches and exercises are best used as part of a comprehensive plan that includes a range of other treatments, including:

    Patty Weasler, RN
    Patty Weasler, RN

    Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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