Menu

Best Exercises for Carpal Tunnel

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 17, 2020

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes uncomfortable tingling, numbing, and weakness in the wrists and hands. Too much compression of the median nerve in the wrists causes this syndrome. It is especially common in women, people who work with their hands, and those with certain medical conditions.

Certain exercises may help people with minor to moderate cases improve their symptoms and avoid carpal tunnel surgery. These exercises have the strongest effect when they are done in conjunction with other non-surgical treatment options like changing the behavior that led to the syndrome or wearing wrist splints. Carpal tunnel exercises are also sometimes recommended after carpal tunnel surgery to prevent internal scarring.

If you feel any significant pain when doing these exercises, back off or stop completely and let your healthcare provider know. If you're unsure about whether to do these exercises, ask your doctor. 

Exercises to Help Carpal Tunnel

1. Wrist Rotations

Rotate your wrists by moving only your hands up, down, left, and right. Repeat up to four times.

2. Finger Stretch

Stretch your fingers wide and then relax them, and repeat up to four times.

3. Thumb Stretch

Using your opposite hand, push your thumb backwards until you feel a gentle stretch. Repeat up to four times.

4. Prayer Stretch

Step 1: Put your hands together under your chin in a prayer position.

Step 2: Push your hands down to your waist until you feel a moderate stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat between two and four times.

5. Wrist Flexor Stretch

Some experts recommend doing this stretch a few times each day. You may want to do it before any activity that tends to aggravate your carpal tunnel symptoms.

Step 1: Hold your hand out in front of you, with the palm face up.

Step 2: Bend your hand back towards the floor, stretching the palm side of the wrist.

Step 3: Use your other hand to bend your hand back even more, deepening the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat on each hand between two and four times.

6. Wrist Extensor Stretch

Experts also recommend doing this exercise a few times each day, especially before activities leading to aggravation of carpal tunnel.

Step 1: Hold your hand out in front of you, with the palm face down.

Step 2: Bend your hand forward towards the floor, stretching the back of the wrist.

Step 3. Use the other hand to bend your hand forward even more, intensifying the stretch, and hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat on each hand between two and four times.

7. Medial Nerve Glide

Apply heat to your hand and wrist for 15 minutes prior to doing this stretch. After, use an ice pack for 20 minutes. This will help prevent swelling. Hold each step of this exercise for between three and seven seconds.

Step 1: Make a fist.

Step 2: Extend your fingers, keeping your thumb close to your fingers. 

Step 3: Bend your hand backwards, towards your arm.

Step 4: Keeping your hand in that position, extend your thumb away from your fingers. 

Step 5: Turn your forearm so your hand is palm up.

Step 6: Use your other hand to pull your thumb back, deepening the stretch. Repeat 10-15 times per day.

8. Tendon Glides: Type One

It is also recommended to use heat for 15 minutes prior to this exercise, and ice or cold for 20 minutes after. Hold each of these poses for three seconds.

Step 1: Hold your hand up in front of you, straightening all of your fingers.

Step 2: Curl your fingers with your knuckles pointing up. Your fingers will be in a hook shape.

Step 3: Curl your fingers further, making a tight fist. Repeat five to ten times per day, a few times each day.

9. Tendon Glides: Type Two

Use heat on your wrist and hand for 15 minutes before doing this one as well. Ice it for 20 minutes after. Hold each position for three seconds.

Step 1: Hold your hand up in front of you, straightening all your fingers.

Step 2: Make your hand into a tabletop by bending your fingers at a 90 degree angle.

Step 3: Continue bending your fingers, bringing your fingertips to the bottom of the palm.

Safety Considerations

A gentle pulling feeling is OK, but you should not feel any sharp pain when performing these exercises. If you do feel a sharp pain, stop doing that exercise immediately and contact your doctor or physical therapist.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Carpal tunnel syndrome."

Mayo Clinic: "Carpal tunnel exercises: Can they relieve symptoms?"

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: "Therapeutic Exercise Program for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome."

My Health Alberta: "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Exercises." 

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.