Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is an extremely common disorder which can affect anyone of any age. In fact, there is a high possibility that at some point in time up to 50 percent of people reading this today will have or have had CTS symptoms and 10 percent or more will have been treated for it! We have addressed many non-surgical treatment strategies for treating CTS recently, but the question of why exercises should be included in this plan remains a mystery for many!
In examining the carpal tunnel anatomy, we have nine tendons that are the “shoe strings” that link the muscles in the forearm on the palm side with the fingers that move through the tunnel along with the notorious median nerve — the culprit that causes the CTS-related numbness and tingling. The tunnel’s bony “roof” consists of eight carpal bones, which link our forearm with our hand and allow us to bend the wrist in several directions. Without these eight little bones, we’d never be able to bend our hand! The tunnel’s “floor” is the transverse carpal ligament, on which the median nerve lies directly above. CTS occurs when the tunnel contents swell and the pressure is applied which pushes the median nerve into the floor, what’s normal when the wrist is twisted, like sleeping with our hand tucked under our chin at night – thus the explanation for a night splint to avoid bending at night.
Now that we have a picture of the tunnel in our heads, CTS exercises will make more sense. CTS occurs when strong, repetitive activities are conducted over a long period of time (e.g., musical instrument practise, assembly line work, carpentry, etc.). The friction inside the tunnel between the tendons (“shoe strings”) causes swelling and this results in tightness.
EXERCISE # 1 is ICING and spreading it over the tunnel using a bag of ice. You’ll feel COLD first, then burning, then aching and eventually numbness. Stop at numbness, as frostbite is the next step of cooling! Some of you may not see “ice massage” as an exercise, but it’s really necessary!
EXERCISE # 2 – Stand by a countertop, put the palm side of your fingers on the counter edge and move until your wrist is bent sideways to the point that you can hold it while holding your elbow straight. Now reach over with your other hand and draw back your thumb as far as possible. Can you feel a “pull” up to the elbows in your mid forearm? Good! Keep that for 3 to 5 seconds, rest for 5 seconds and repeat it 3 times. Use this on both hands, even when the other hand is “natural” so you can feel the difference between the “strong” side of the CTS versus the regular arm. Often, CTS is bilateral so you may not note any difference. Now, set the timer to ring every hour on your smartphone to remind you to do that during the work day.
EXERCISE # 3 is an open sequence of the fist/”bear claw” / hand. First, make a tight fist, then open your hand while holding your fingers bent / flexed and then open your hand and fingers completely. Keep each place for two to three seconds and go through the sequence as much as possible (usually two to three times a day, several times a day) when doing BOTH sides simultaneously.
Why do these exercises help? You break up adhesion’s between the tendons, their sheaths, and the underlying tissues. These exercises often cause you to take ‘mini-breaks’ during a busy day, which may minimise swelling in the carpal tunnel.
We understand that you have a preference for your health care and we deeply appreciate your choosing our service for those needs. If you, a friend or family member need Carpal Tunnel Syndrome treatment, we’d be delighted to support you.