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Carpal tunnel syndrome affects millions of Americans each year, yet experts aren’t entirely sure what causes it. A combination of lifestyle and genetic factors are likely to blame. However, the risk factors are so diverse that nearly everybody has one or more of them at some point in their lives.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause numbness, stiffness, and pain in the fingers and hand. There is no known way to prevent carpal tunnel, but some exercises can reduce your chances of experiencing symptoms.
We spoke with John DiBlasio, MPT, DPT, CSCS, a Vermont-based physical therapist, for exercise suggestions.
Here are three basic moves you can do any time of day. These stretches and exercises are simple and don’t require any equipment. You can easily do them at your desk, while waiting in line, or whenever you have a minute or two to spare.
“Problems like carpal tunnel are best addressed … with stretches done throughout the day,” says Dr. DiBlasio. Protect your wrists in just a few minutes a day with these easy movements.
Remember that nursery rhyme from when you were a kid? Turns out it’s a great stretch for your hands:
- Start with your fingertips touching and pointing down toward the floor.
- Spread fingers apart as far you can, then “steeple” the fingers by separating palms of hands but keeping fingers together.
“This stretches the palmar fascia, carpal tunnel structures, and median nerve, the nerve that gets irritated in a carpal tunnel syndrome,” says DiBlasio. This one is so simple even your officemates won’t notice you doing it, so you don’t have any excuses for not trying it.
This is as straightforward as it sounds: Shake your hands like you’ve just washed them and are trying to air dry them.
“Do this for a minute or two every hour to keep flexor muscles of your hands and its median nerve from getting cramped and tight during the day,” he advises.
If that sounds like a lot, you could even integrate this into your handwashing routine. You are washing your hands frequently, right? If not, use your carpal tunnel treatment as another reason to lather up more often.
This last exercise is the deepest stretch of the set:
- Extend your arm in front of you, palm up.
- Bend your wrist back and point your hand toward the floor.
- With your other hand, gently bend your wrist farther until you feel the stretch in your forearm.
- Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times.
Stretching is an important part of any healthy routine. You don’t have to limit your regimen to the exercises on this list. Every part of your body can benefit from the increased circulation, movement, and mobility that stretching can provide.
Speak with a doctor if you think you’re experiencing carpal tunnel. Prompt treatment may help relieve your symptoms and keep the syndrome from worsening. The exercises mentioned above should be only a part of your treatment plan. Other treatments for carpal tunnel could include:
Your doctor may recommend surgery if these treatments don’t improve your symptoms.