Exercises to Prevent and Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Julie Kirk
Young woman wrist pain

If you need treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome, you may want to try the top exercises that are used to help prevent and relieve carpal tunnel symptoms. Learning which exercises are most effective can be key in providing relief from the pain.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when the median nerve in the wrist becomes compressed. Common symptoms you may experience include pain, numbness, weakness and a tingling sensation in your hand and arm. It is typically caused by consistent, repetitive hand and wrist movements over an extended period of time. These movements may be job-related or attributed to other activities where repetitive hand motion is used.

Top Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There are a number of exercises that can be utilized to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or treat carpal tunnel symptoms. However, prior to beginning these exercises, you should ask your doctor or physical therapist if these exercises are appropriate for you.

Nerve Gliding Exercise for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This exercise can provide relief from numbness and tingling in your hand. It also alleviates pressure on the median nerve and helps it glide as it should.

  1. You may sit or stand for this exercise.
  2. Hold your arm straight out to the side.
  3. Turn head in the opposite direction of the straightened arm and look down to the floor.
  4. With your palm up, keep your fingers straight as you flex your wrist to point your fingers down toward the floor. Then bend your wrist to move your hand up, pointing your fingers toward the ceiling.
  5. Do 10 repetitions.
  6. Do two sets with each arm.

Wrist Extension

This exercise can increase flexibility and reduce stiffness in the wrist.

  1. You may sit or stand for this exercise.
  2. Extend your arm straight out in front of you, palm down, wrist bent, fingertips down toward the floor.
  3. Use your opposite hand to gently apply pressure to the front of the hand. Then slightly pull it back toward you.
  4. You should feel the stretch on the upper side of the forearm.
  5. Hold stretch for 15 seconds.
  6. Do 10 repetitions twice a day.
Woman stretching wrist at park

Wrist Flexion

This exercise will also increase the flexibility and decrease stiffness in the wrist.

  1. You may sit or stand for this exercise.
  2. Extend your arm straight out in front of you, palm down, wrist bent back, fingertips up toward the ceiling.
  3. Use your opposite hand to gently apply pressure to the palm of the stretched out arm. Then slightly pull your hand back toward you.
  4. You should feel the stretch on the underside of the forearm.
  5. Hold stretch for 15 seconds.
  6. Do 10 repetitions twice a day.
Doctor helps patience with his wrist

Rubber Band Finger Stretches

These stretches will help strengthen the hand using subtle resistance.

  1. Wrap a taut rubber band around your finger tips at about the first knuckle.
  2. Open and stretch fingers and then close the fingers.
  3. Repeat the open/close motion 10 times.
  4. Do three sets with each hand.

The Shake

This will help prevent tightening or cramping of your hands and relieve symptoms.

  1. You will have your arms in front of you but relaxed.
  2. Shake your hands as if you're drying them off.
  3. Do this for 30 to 60 seconds every hour, especially if you're performing repetitive wrist motions.

Prayer Stretch

This stretch can help prevent and alleviate pressure on the median nerve.

  1. Standing upright, place your palms together at chest level.
  2. Keeping hands close to your body, lower your hands down to your belly button.
  3. You should feel a nice forearm stretch.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat five times.
Man standing with hands clasped

Typing Exercise

If typing is causing issues, try this short exercise after typing:

  1. Hold your arms in front of you and make a tight fist with both hands. Hold the position for a count of three.
  2. Fan your fingers out and hold the position for a count of three.
  3. Repeat the exercise five times.

How Exercise Can Help

Exercise is very important in helping prevent and treat carpal tunnel syndrome. Theses exercises can be very effective. They can help alleviate the pressure on the median nerve, prevent the condition from progressing, and may eliminate the need for physical therapy or surgery. Exercises may be used in conjunction with other treatments such as bracing/splinting of the hand and wrist, ice packs, cortisone injections, or medications such as NSAIDS (ibuprofen and naproxen), per your doctor's recommendations.

Ways to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

A few ways you can help prevent the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Keeping your hands warm
  • Avoiding sleeping in positions where your wrists are bent
  • Trying yoga
  • Keeping your grip relaxed, not tight

You should also take breaks between repetitive activity and exercise the wrists and hands. Flexing and bending your wrists and hands in the opposite direction of the repetitive action can sometimes lessen the detrimental effect of the repetitive gesture.

Don't Ignore Your Symptoms

It is important that you recognize the early symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome because unfortunately it will only worsen with no medical intervention. You should not hesitate to speak with your doctor as soon as you notice any potential carpal tunnel symptoms.

Exercises to Prevent and Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome