Fitness Articles

Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

A Real Pain in Your Wrist No More

You don’t want to complain, but lately you have felt a little tingling or numbness in your hand and wrist. Sometimes, the pain is sharp. Other times it seems to travel from your wrist up through your arm. You try to shake it off but it just won’t go away.

Is it just a cramp? A muscle spasm? More than likely, you could be experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition seen annually by physicians more than two million times. It strikes three times as many women as it does men and it accounts for 10 to 20 percent of all repetitive strain injuries.

What is it?

Your median nerve, which controls sensations for the palm side of your thumb and fingers (except the pinkie) runs from your wrist to your forearm. It is encapsulated within the carpal tunnel, which is comprised of small bones. (Carpal comes from carpus, the Latin word for wrist.) Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when this nerve becomes impinged, pressed, or squeezed within this bony tunnel. This can cause various symptoms including numbness, pain, tingling or a "funny feeling" in the fingers, hand, and/or wrist. Other classic symptoms include:
  • Burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers, especially the thumb, index, and middle fingers
  • Fingers that feel useless and swollen with little or no apparent swelling
  • The need to "shake out" the hand or wrist upon waking
  • Decreased grip strength
  • Inability to grasp small objects
  • Inability to distinguish between hot and cold to the touch
What causes it?

You may think that carpal tunnel syndrome occurs only in people who work at a computer all day, but carpal tunnel syndrome is typically caused by a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve—not just excessive computer use. Some people have a genetic predisposition caused by an unusually small carpal tunnel. In some cases, doctors are unable to identify a cause of the symptoms. Additional factors that can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome include:
  • Injury or trauma to the wrist that causes swelling
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Mechanical problems of the wrist joint
  • Work stress
  • Repeated use of vibrating tools
  • Fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause
  • A cyst or tumor in the canal
How can you prevent it?

More than one quarter of a million carpal tunnel surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. and 47% of those cases are work-related. To prevent this condition in the workplace, workers should perform stretching exercises (see at the end of the article), take frequent rest breaks, wear splints to keep the wrists in a straight position, and use correct posture and wrist position when using a keyboard. There are many products created for office workers that are designed to make the workstation more ergonomic. Tools such as specially designed computer mouse and keyboards place the hand and wrist in a more ergonomic position to keep the wrists straight instead of bent or cocked. These tools may look a little funny and might even cost a bit more but are definitely worth the investment if you spend a large portion of the day on the computer. In many cases, your workplace will purchase them for you if you simply ask!

For other jobs that entail repetitive use of the hands, apply the same principles above but look for opportunities to rotate job functions throughout the day (if possible) so that you're not performing the same repetitive tasks all day long. Think ergonomically when looking at a job function and choosing tools for the job. Be as body friendly as possible, considering alignment and form when you move during your tasks.

Anyone can take steps like these to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome (or help alleviate its symptoms), but research has yet to prove that these steps will definitely prevent the problem.

How is it treated?

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated in a surgical or non-surgical manner. The initial treatment usually involves resting the affected hand or wrist for at least two weeks, avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms, and immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid more damage from twisting or bending.

If the wrist is inflamed, cool packs may reduce swelling. One interesting note that deserves special attention is that yoga has been shown to effectively reduce pain and improve grip strength among patients with carpal tunnel syndrome! Your best bet is to consult with your physician to discuss which treatment options may be best for you.

Below are some specific stretches and exercises that can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and reduce symptoms.

Carpal Tunnel Exercises

Carpal tunnel exercises can help prevent and ease the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. While these exercises alone are not substitute for treatment and ergonomic positioning, they may offer some relief.

You can try this movement series at the start and end of your work shift, as well as during any breaks you take throughout the day.
  1. Stand up straight and extend both arms straight out in front of you.
  2. Extend your wrists and fingers acutely as if they were giving a "stop" signal. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  3. Now straighten your wrists while relaxing your fingers.
  4. Keeping your wrists straight, make a fist and squeeze it tightly. Hold for 5 seconds.
  5. Keeping your fists clenched, bend your wrists down. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  6. Straighten both wrists and relax your fingers again.
  7. Repeat this series 5-10 times, then relax your arms by your sides.
Even if you haven't experienced the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, these exercises are simple, easy and feel great for anyone who uses the computers, works with hand tools, sews, plays an instrument or does other repetitive hand/finger tasks. Don't wait until your hands and wrists cause you pain—take proactive steps today.

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Member Comments

  • Good info on carpal tunnel
  • Thank You for the great ideas.
  • Good information. Thank you for sharing
  • A malady that used to be confined to typists now runs rampant thanks in no small part to the rise of the computer. Great exercises for all!
  • Excellent article. Good information.
  • I'm experiencing carpal tunnel pain right now. The pain woke me up in the middle of the night last night. I put my brace on. It's helping, but still rather uncomfortable.
  • The best exercise for carpal tunnel is to use a can like a tomato paste can, it is more uniform in size and shape. This is what my surgeon had me to use after my hands healed for PT. As well as the Physical Therapist, she was a speaker and teacher for many hospitals across the nation for Carpal Tunnel Therapy. I only remember her first name is Rosalind and her assistant was Jackie in Vero Beach, Fla.
    If Carpal Tunnel isn't diagnosed in time your muscle can collapse. It is always wise to seek medical attention immediately if you suspect that you have this condition.
  • I had my carpal tunnels released, 11 months apart. Not the most pleasant of procedures, yet nothing to fear if you reach the point of needing this. I love being proactive and doing the least evasive treatment for as long as it brings relief. The exercises given are wonderful and preventative...I have done them pre and post release. Regrettably there are just times when overuse (hello cutting through too many layers of construction paper over 25 collective years of teaching) takes its toll. It is nice to finally be able to hold the steering wheel and not having my hands instantly fall asleep. Listen to your body and respect what it is telling you, it is far better to have options!
  • Great article! A friend just had carpal tunnel surgery. Definitely not fun.

    Those quirky curved keyboards really do help!
  • Great article. I have recently been diagnosed with carpal tunnel in both hands. It started in my right thumb. The pain is sometimes excruciating. I have problems grasping cups, even my water bottle is painful if I lift it wrong. You just don't know how much you use your thumb until you can't use it! Although I was a typist for over 20 years, I don't have trouble typing. I also don't have the numbness and tingling. I just have pain when I lift things, use scissors, write by hand or use my hands wrong. To top it off I also have trigger thumb. It comes and goes. I wear a brace on both hands which helps a lot.

    Although I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel I will be asking about DeQuervian's syndrome.

    Again, Great Article with lots of informative information. :D

  • I've been doing some of these exercises and they do help. useful info here. thanks!
  • KYLE2147
    I found a cold compression wrap would take the pain away really quickly. It's inflammation in the wrist that puts pressure on the nerves passing through the carpal tunnel and causes the pain. Rest and stretches too, to stimulate blood flow is needed to heal the injury that is causing the inflammation. My job requires a lot of typing, I didn't have time to rest and wait so I also got a blood flow stimulator to speed things up. Both from the site below.


About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.