Do I Need Physical Therapy for My Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you know the pain, numbness, and tingling it causes can make it tough to do many of the things you enjoy. The good news is there are a lot of ways to ease your symptoms. One of those is through physical therapy.

What Can a Physical Therapist Provide?

A physical therapist is a medical professional who can work with you to reduce your pain and help you regain strength and mobility. If she specializes in hand physical therapy, she can recommend something called “gliding” exercises. These focus on nerves and tendons. The goal is to help reduce pain and increase mobility.

Your therapist might also suggest a brace. You’ll wear this at night to keep your wrist straight. And you might wear it during the day, when you’re doing activities that may worsen your symptoms.

Some other things your physical therapist might suggest are:

  • Changes you can make to help reduce your symptoms at work, at home, and in your leisure time
  • Ultrasound, the use of high frequency vibrations, to decrease symptoms
  • A special hand traction device to help make your carpal tunnel area larger through stretching

Will Physical Therapy Work for Me?

That depends on how well you respond to treatment and whether physical therapy will help you meet your goals of pain relief and better hand function.

But research is promising.

In a recent study, doctors in Spain divided 120 women with carpal tunnel syndrome into two groups. One group got surgery. The other group was treated with physical therapy. The therapists focused on the soft tissue in their arms and hands. The goal was to stop irritation of the median nerve, the culprit behind the condition.

Researchers followed up with both groups of women several times over a year. What they found is that both physical therapy and surgery can help, but physical therapy led to better outcomes in the short term. The women who received therapy had less pain and better function much earlier compared with those who had surgery.

Could physical therapy help your carpal tunnel syndrome? Talk to your doctor. If you do choose to have therapy, your physical therapist will follow up with your doctor to talk about your progress and make other recommendations.

What About Physical Therapy After Surgery?

Doctors recommend it to help your wrist get stronger.

But the benefits don’t stop there: Your therapist can also help you manage your surgical scar to prevent any complications. She can also recommend specific exercises to help you regain mobility and flexibility after surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on March 26, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

Mayo Clinic: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. “I've been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Would regular hand and wrist exercises help me avoid surgery?”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Carpal Tunnel Fact Sheet.”

International Journal of Clinical Rheumatology: “Current options for nonsurgical management of carpal tunnel syndrome.”

American Society of Hand Therapists: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

News release, American Pain Society.

The Journal of Pain: “Manual Physical Therapy Versus Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Parallel-Group Trial.”

American Physical Therapy Association: “Move Forward, “Physical Therapist's Guide to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”  

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