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9 Stretches to Relieve Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

September 25, 2019

"Carpal tunnel syndrome affects approximately 2 million people in the United States annually."

Carpal tunnel is a painful syndrome that causes pain in the wrists and affects millions of Americans. Women are also three times more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome than men, and Carpal tunnel syndrome is most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60. Learn more about this painful condition, the symptoms, and what can be done both to treat and prevent it in today’s live with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD.

Video Highlights

  • 03:54: Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
  • 06:43: Causes of Carpal Tunnel
  • 13:20: Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • 19:20: Top 9 Stretches for Carpal Tunnel Relief
  • 34:51: Wrap-Up

Dr. Nancy recently did a whole series on pain, including a show about pain in the wrists, hands, and fingers — and in that episode, the subject of carpal tunnel really struck a nerve (no pun intended).  Since so many people seem to suffer from this, Dr. Nancy decided to dedicate a whole show to talking about this issue. 

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel is a syndrome that occurs when the median nerve in your wrist becomes compressed. Don’t worry if that sounds like Greek to you — we’re going to go into more detail about that median nerve. 

Symptoms of carpal tunnel include:

  • Tingling, numbness, or pain in your fingers, especially the first three fingers and the thumb
  • Weakness in the hand
  • Decreased grip strength, difficulty holding an object in your hand
  • Swelling
  • A burning sensation that travels from your wrist all the up your arm
  • Wrist pain that’s so intense it keeps you up at night

If you have these then you might have carpal tunnel. 

So let’s go deeper into what carpal tunnel is, how to prevent it, and then we’ll offer some natural remedies to try if you do have it, including Dr. Nancy’s top 9 best stretches for carpal tunnel

Causes of Carpal Tunnel

The palm of your hand is called the carpal tunnel. There is a nerve that runs from the base of the neck, all the way down the arm, and into the first three fingers and thumb of the hand. This is called the median nerve. Across the base of your palm, is the carpal tunnel, which is covered by the transverse carpal ligament. When the median nerve becomes pinched, carpal tunnel syndrome results. The reason more women are afflicted with carpal tunnel than men is believed to be because the carpal tunnel is smaller in women than it is in men. 

Carpal tunnel does affect both men and women, though, and it doesn’t discriminate in terms of the reason. Some of the main causes include:

  • Trauma to the wrist
  • An overactive thyroid or pituitary gland
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fluid retention during menopause or pregnancy
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Having a cyst or tumor that’s compressing the carpal tunnel

Work stress is another major reason you might develop carpal tunnel. Jobs that see people suffering from carpal tunnel the most include: those who perform manual labor or use vibrating hand tools repeatedly, as in the manufacturing and construction industries, those who do a lot of keyboarding, and those who work on an assembly line. In fact, assembly line workers are three times more likely to get carpal tunnel than those who work in data entry. 

There are other factors that can increase your risk of developing carpal tunnel, such as:

Carpal tunnel can affect one or both hands, but it usually starts in the dominant hand. Symptoms tend to start gradually and then build from there. As we already mentioned, you might feel numbness or tingling, especially in those first three fingers and the thumb. You might experience swelling or can’t lift or hold anything. At its worst, the tingling might progress until you’re feeling it all the time. You might no longer be able to distinguish between hot and cold, and eventually, the muscles at the base of the thumb may begin to deteriorate. 

Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

If you think you might have carpal tunnel, it’s important to consult your primary care physician. From there, he or she might run tests that examine the nerves of the wrist to test how fast your nerves are responding to sensation. If the nerve impulse is slower than normal, that’s a sign you might have carpal tunnel. 

Your doctor might prescribe over-the-counter pain medication or a topical pain reliever to reduce inflammation, or they might recommend you wear wrist splints to keep your hands in a more neutral position. Steroid injections are another option.

 A few more holistic approaches also available include:

  • Eating anti-inflammatory foods to reduce inflammation in the wrist, as well as other areas of the body. And just to make sure your body is getting all the essential vitamins and minerals it needs, take a good food-based multi mineral and vitamin supplement, like our Smarter Multivitamin. You can also add Smarter Curcumin to your daily regime to help fight inflammation naturally. 
  • Treat your wrists to some heat therapy. Using hand warmers, or even wearing some fingerless gloves so you generate some heat in those wrists and hands will help reduce swelling and help reduce pain as a result.
  • Elevate your hands. Promoting blood flow away from your wrists and hands will also reduce swelling and pain. 

Certain lifestyle changes might be in order, as well, especially if you’re someone who has diabeteshigh blood pressure, or if you’re overweight. For those of you who might have high blood pressure, you’re more at risk because blood flow to the median nerve is interrupted and can lead to nerve damage, which can then cause carpal tunnel symptoms. In the case of diabetes, high glucose levels can lead to nerve damage, which can also cause carpal tunnel symptoms. An increase in fluid build-up in the tissue around the carpal tunnel is often the cause of carpal tunnel in people who are overweight. 

While diabetes can cause carpal tunnel, did you know that carpal tunnel is also believed to be a predictor for diabetes? High levels of sugar in the blood can damage blood vessels over time and those blood vessels connect to nerves throughout the body. This is why it is believed that carpal tunnel can be a predictor of diabetes — carpal tunnel could be due to more than just a compression of the nerves; the nerves may already be damaged, and therefore, are more susceptible to compression. 

Top 10 Stretches for Carpal Tunnel Relief

But before we dive in, there are a few precautions and indications that should be mentioned. 

When doing stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel, you should feel what some people call the “good pain”. You should feel a stretch, but it should feel good. You don’t ever want to feel pain to the point that you’re wincing or straining. 

Also, with these particular stretches, you shouldn’t feel any numbness in your fingers. Tingling is okay, as long as it stops once you come out of the stretch. If your fingers still tingle when you release the stretch – stop. That’s a sign you’re not quite ready for that type of stretch. 

We also recommend you apply heat to your hands and wrists for 15 minutes prior to doing these exercises. You can do this with hand warmers or gloves, or use a heating pad or microwaveable gel pack. 

Fist stretches

  • Keep your elbows bent and locked in close to your thighs and make a fist with both hands. 
  • First, point your fists down as far as you can and then up as far as you can. You don’t want to feel any pain – just a nice stretch along the top and underside of the wrists. Do this a few times. 

  • Next, turn your fists toward one another so the pinkies are pointing toward the floor and the thumbs are resting on top. 
  • Now, move your fists up and down that way a few times. This should feel pretty nice along the sides of the wrists. 

Double-arm wrist extension and flexion

  • Extend your arms out in front of you for this one. The hands should also be open, almost as if you’re telling someone to, “Stop!”
  • Stay just like this for about 30 seconds. 
  • If you’d like a little bit extra, you can place your palms against a wall with the arms extended out in front of you and hold that for 30 seconds. Again, you’re looking for a stretch; you shouldn’t feel any pain. If you do, come out of it and modify with either the hands up or you can even make fists if open palms are too intense. 
  • Repeat 3 times.

  • Next, do this with the fingers pointing down toward the floor and the backs of the hands facing out. 
  • If you need more of a stretch, curl your fingers into a fist. Again, hold for 30 seconds, repeating that 3 times.

Single-arm wrist extensions

  • Extend your right arm out in front of you, gently pressing the heel of your palm away from you. Again, it’s as if you’re telling someone to, “Stop!”
  • With your left hand, gently pull back on your right fingers until you feel a nice stretch in your forearm. 
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times before repeating on the left side. 

Single-arm wrist flexions

  • With your arm extended out in front of you, dip your fingers toward the floor with your palm facing toward you. 
  • Again, gently pull back on your fingers, this time feeling a stretch along the outside of your forearm. 
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. 

Prayer stretch

This is performed exactly how it sounds.

  • Bring your hands together in a prayer position in front of your chest.
  • Slowly begin to lower the hands while you keep your elbows pointing out to the sides. 
  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat two more times. 

Median nerve glides

  • Bring your arm out to the side and bend the elbow. Your elbow doesn’t have to be in line with your shoulders for this one, just take your arm out to the side wherever it’s comfortable. 
  • Make a fist with your right hand. The thumb should be on the outside of your fingers.
  • Open your fist and extend your fingers, but still keep that thumb in close. 
  • From there, extend the thumb.

  • Next, keep that position on the thumb and fingers, and bend your hand backward toward your forearm, like your carrying a tray

  • Now I want you to rotate your arm so your palm is facing toward you, as if you were getting ready to set that tray down on a table or something. 

  • With your left hand, pull gently on your right thumb to give it a stretch. 
  • Let go of the thumb and straighten the arm all the way, reaching the fingers toward the floor. 
  • Try and do these with one position flowing into the next about 5 to 7 times.

    Hand squeezes

    • You’ll need “equipment” for this one in the form of a can of beans or even a pair of balled-up socks will work. 
    • Hold whatever you’re using in your hand and hold for 5 seconds.
    • Release and repeat 7 to 10 times. 

    Pec stretch

    • Clasp your hands behind your back and drive the hands down and away from you, opening up the chest. 
    • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat a total of 3 times.

    Scalene stretch

    • Place your left hand on your right collarbone. This is going to help you to keep the shoulders lowered.
    • Turn your head to the left and then point your right ear toward the ceiling. You should feel a really great stretch across the front of the neck. 
    • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Repeat a total of 3 times. 

    Once you’ve completed the exercises, it’s a great idea to apply ice or even a frozen bag of veggies to your wrists for 15 to 20 minutes after to cut down on inflammation. 

    Wrap-Up 

    Carpal tunnel syndrome affects approximately 2 million people in the United States annually. It is a syndrome that causes numbness, pain, swelling, and even loss of feeling in the hand. 

    Carpal tunnel occurs when the median nerve — the nerve that runs from the base of the neck, all the way down the arm, and into the first three fingers and thumb — becomes compressed. This can happen if you:

    • Are overweight
    • Have high blood pressure or diabetes
    • Work in the manual labor, assembly line, or data-entry industries
    • Are pregnant or going through menopause
    • Have rheumatoid arthritis

    Ways that you can alleviate symptoms include:

    • Taking OTC medications and/or applying topical pain relievers when needed
    • Eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods
    • Applying heat
    • Keeping the wrists elevated
    • Wearing wrist splints to keep the hands in a neutral position
    • Performing the 10 stretches and exercises you saw demonstrated in today’s episode

    We hope you found today’s episode helpful, and you get some relief from carpal tunnel, or better yet, are able to prevent it!

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