Wrist pain can make it difficult to enjoy activities you once loved. If you’ve noticed pain in your wrist and numbness or tingling in your hand and some of your fingers, you may have developed symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
CTS is a collection of symptoms that occur due to impingement, AKA compression, of a nerve. This nerve begins in the neck, runs down the arm, through the wrist, and into the thumb (first), second, third, and part of the fourth finger and is called the median nerve.
The term “carpal” refers to the 8 small bones that make up the wrist, collectively named the carpal bones. The term “tunnel” refers to the small space between these wrist bones that allow the median nerve and other structures to pass through and into the hand.
So, carpal tunnel syndrome describes the symptoms you feel when inflammation causes the median nerve to be compressed within the carpal tunnel.
CTS follows a similar pattern among people. Usually, people have wrist pain, numbness, tingling, or pain radiating from the wrist down the fingers that the median nerve branches into – thumb/first, second, third, and the inner half of the fourth fingers.
Many people also say that their pain is worse at night. This can happen because we are unaware of the position of our body while we sleep and may inadvertently sleep with the wrist bent, which aggravates the symptoms.
What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The primary cause is inflammation within the wrist. Typically, repetitive wrist motions or stress cause inflammation to occur. Potential activities that could aggravate the carpal tunnel include, but are not limited to, gardening, car repair, household cleaning chores, or even some crafting activities.
If you spend a lot of time with your wrist bent in one direction or perform repetitive motions involving the wrist, you may develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
We can’t forget the importance of striving for good posture. Years of sitting at a desk tend to wreak havoc on our spine and posture. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a problem with the wrist, but the median nerve starts in the neck.
If we have poor posture, we can compress the nerve within our neck and shoulders, making it harder to avoid developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
How do you know if you have CTS?
If you have these symptoms but have never spoken to your PCP about them, you can do a simple test at home. We call it the “inverted prayer hands” test, but your provider may call it Phalen’s maneuver.
Simply bring your hands together in front of your chest. Press the backs of your hands together so that your fingers are dangling toward the floor. If you can touch the backs of your hands together, that’s good, but it is not necessary to have that much flexibility for this test.
Hold your hands in this inverted prayer position, slightly pressing your hands together for up to 1 minute. If this position recreates the pain, numbness, or tingling in your hands – then you may have developed inflammation in your wrist that is causing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Your provider may choose to treat CTS with anti-inflammatory medications. They may also recommend sleeping with a wrist brace to prevent accidental pressure on the wrist during sleep. However, if you wish to add more tools to your kit to relieve your pain and potentially prevent a recurrence, check out the following three exercises.
3 Exercises for Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
1. Wrist Extension Stretch
The first exercise you can do is called the wrist extension stretch, and this is designed to improve flexibility in the wrist and hand.
Begin by extending the affected arm in front of you, palm facing the ceiling. Using your other hand, cover the palm and thumb. (Remember, the median nerve travels into the thumb, and we don’t want to neglect that branch of the nerve in this stretch.)
Once you have covered the palm and thumb of your affected hand, gently press downward onto your outstretched palm, toward the floor.
If you can complete this stretch with your arm fully extended in front of you, that is best. However, if you cannot straighten your arm fully, you can still benefit from this stretch if your elbow stays bent.
Press until you feel a gentle stretch in the forearm, hold for 30 seconds, and release for 5-10 seconds. Repeat this stretch 3 times.
While you are stretching, pay attention to your shoulders. Try and keep your shoulders in a down and relaxed position to get the most benefit from this stretch.
2. Median Nerve Glides
The second exercise is called median nerve glides, and this is designed to improve mobility within the wrist structure. This exercise is comprised of 5 parts.
- Make a fist with your affected hand.
- Straighten your fingers, keeping them joined together.
- Extend the hand and fingers backward, keeping the fingers in line with the palm.
- Extend your thumb out to the side, making an “L” shape between the thumb and forefinger.
- Keep all the other fingers extended and joined together. Finally, with your opposite hand, pull down on your thumb, creating a gentle stretch. Repeat this exercise 10 times on each side.
3. Tennis Ball Squeeze
The final exercise is called tennis ball squeeze, but this can be accomplished with many different objects. This is designed to strengthen the hand, wrist, and forearm.
Find an object that you can fit within your hand to grip. This can be a water bottle, soup can, shampoo bottle, etc. This is an isometric exercise.
Isometric means “without change,” or in our case, without repetitive contraction of a muscle. Grip and squeeze your item, holding for around 5 seconds. Use a moderate grip effort for this exercise.
Then release the tension and repeat this pattern 10 times. All in all, this should take around 50-60 seconds. This strengthens the the wrist, providing support and relieving stress on the wrist.
You can use these exercises to take a 3-pronged approach to relieve symptoms of and preventing recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome in addition to the recommendations of your PCP.
Be sure to let us know how these exercises have helped you and check back for more information on joint health!
Check out this handy 4 weeks exercise pdf guide to help you defeat carpal tunnel syndrome pain. Just print it off and follow along to each of the day’s exercises. Click here to view the plan.