Carpal tunnel syndrome: four wrist exercises to help relieve pain

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a fairly common condition affecting the wrist and hand. Around one in 20 people in the UK will develop CTS and it’s more common during pregnancy and among middle-aged women.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

CTS is caused by pressure being put on the median nerve in your wrist. This nerve controls movement and feeling in your hand. When pressure is applied to it, this can cause tingling, pain and numbness in your hand and fingers. 

Symptoms often start slowly and then come and go over time. They include:

  • Aching or pain in your hand, fingers or arm
  • A weak thumb
  • Difficulty gripping
  • Numb hands or fingers
  • Tingling in your hands or fingers

You can sometimes treat CTS yourself with regular exercises and in some cases this will be enough for it to go away after a few months. Exercises should be performed on a daily basis, especially if you do a job that requires you to use your hands a lot, such as driving or typing. This will help relieve the pressure on your median nerve and ease your symptoms.

Here are four exercises to help reduce the effects of CTS.

A wrist being examined

Wrist bend

This is one of the simplest exercises you can perform and is easy to do throughout the day. 

  1. Gently rest your elbow on a table with your arm and palm facing upwards and your wrist straight
  2. Gently bend your wrist towards you to form a right angle and hold this position for five seconds
  3. Straighten your wrist to its starting position ie so the back of your hand is once again flat against the table
  4. Gently bend your wrist backwards — this will lift the back of your hand up from the table. Hold this position for five seconds
  5. Repeat this 10 times — this is one set. Complete three sets

Median nerve glide

There are a few different ways you can perform a median nerve glide, but this is one of the simplest. 

  1. Bend your elbow and make a fist that faces towards you — keep your wrist straight
  2. Open out your fist to straighten your fingers and thumb, keeping your thumb lined up next to your index finger — your fingers and thumb should all be pointing up
  3. Keeping your fingers and thumb straight, bend your wrist by about 30 degrees away from you
  4. Extend your thumb out to the side so it is no longer lined up next to your index finger
  5. Keeping your fingers, thumbs and wrist in the same position as in step 4, turn your forearm out to the side — this position is similar to a waiter holding up a serving dish to their side
  6. Hold this position for five seconds
  7. Repeat three to five times — this is one set. Complete two to three sets each day

Finger bends

This exercise is ideal if you have a busy schedule as you can easily do it anywhere. 

  1. Hold your hand up straight with the palm facing away from you
  2. Gently bend the middle joints of your fingers down so your fingertips touch the upper part of your palm
  3. Hold this position for five seconds and then slowly straighten your fingers
  4. Repeat this 10 times — this is one set. Complete three sets

Weighted wrist stretch

For this exercise, you will need a weighted object, such as a can of beans. 

  1. Hold the object in your hand and hold your arm out in front of you with the palm of your hand facing down
  2. Slowly stretch your wrist upwards, hold for five seconds and return to the starting position
  3. Repeat 10 times — this is one set. Complete three sets

Over time, slowly increase the weight you hold — you can do this by filling a bottle or container with different amounts of water. This will gradually strengthen your wrist and ensure the exercise continues to be effective.

Carpal tunnel treatment

If your symptoms don’t get any better or they get worse, talk to your GP about treatments for CTS. There are a few treatment options depending on how severe your CTS is.

Wrist splints

Wearing a wrist splint can help keep your wrist straight and reduce the pressure on your median nerve. It’s best to wear it at night, which is often when symptoms are worse. Try wearing it for at least four weeks.

Steroid injections

If a wrist splint doesn’t help, your GP may suggest a steroid injection into your wrist. This will help reduce inflammation around the nerve and consequently reduce the pressure on it and ease your symptoms. 

Steroid injections do not always cure CTS and you may need to have another injection after a few months. However, it is not recommended to have more than two injections as this can damage the tissue in your wrist. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome surgery

If other treatments have not helped and your CTS is getting worse, your GP may refer you for carpal tunnel surgery. Surgery involves cutting a ligament in your wrist which forms part of a tunnel through which your median nerve runs (the carpal tunnel). This helps relieve pressure on the nerve.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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