It's important for us to start with a huge DISCLAIMER here. Please see a physician before starting any kind of exercise regimen. What I am listing below is a very general outline of what usually works for patients after a thorough evaluation to confirm the cause of their symptoms. It may not work for everyone or every case and you should seek a formal evaluation and assessment of your concerns. In general, any time you feel numbness and/or tingling in your face, head or jaw, down your arms, or have an upset stomach, abnormal bowel/bladder movements, please discontinue the exercise and seek professional advice.
What are we doing more and more frequently during this COVID time? I don't know about you, but I have spent more time typing on a computer and in front of a screen than ever before. The constant typing and repetitive motions with few breaks have flared up a lot of my patients who have carpal tunnel syndrome. I'm giving away my approach to treating CTS and some of my go-to exercises for combating those symptoms!
Where does carpal tunnel syndrome come from?
There has been a common denominator with the majority of my patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Typically, the nerves are caught in the retinaculum, which is the connective tissue that organizes our nerves. In laypersons terms: the carpal tunnel.
The carpal tunnel serves as a space that permits the nerves to slide and glide when you're moving. But for those with carpal tunnel syndrome, the nerves are stuck and unable to slide and glide or their nerves are too short.
Structures in the neck can also pinch the nerves. I have found that many patients that experience carpal tunnel syndrome have forward head posture which can rattle and shorten the nerves. They can then get irritated and inflamed with overuse and repetitive motion.
What are the common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Pain in the hand(s) and arm(s) is a very common symptom of CTS. But pain accompanied by numbness, tingling, buzzing or an electric feeling is very indicative of CTS. These symptoms usually worsen with repetitive activities like typing and writing. At worst, people suffering from carpal tunnel have weakness and find it difficult to perform basic tasks like opening a jar or turning a key.
What would we do about it in office?
Here at Rehab and Revive, we want to take a look at the nervous system, the mechanics of the feet and other related structures and, of course, good, old-fashioned habits like postures and how you are sitting.
We typically start treatment at the neck with mobility and stability techniques. We manually work on adhesions and scar tissue around the nerve tracks and free up the connective tissues around the hand and wrist. Strengthening the shoulder and shoulder blade complex is the key final component in keeping those CTS symptoms gone for good!
You can check out one of our blogs on how to alleviate carpal tunnel symptoms at home here!
Below are three of my favorite carpal tunnel syndrome related exercises!
The cervical impact test/exercise is a neck stabilization exercise. As I mentioned earlier, having a weak neck or forward head posture can be a big contributing factor to those with CTS. This exercise stabilizes your neck to keep it in a good posture. We need the small muscles in the neck to act as a neck brace and stay stable when the arms are moving. Better posture keeps the neck bones and discs from colliding with nerves.
Tugging on your shoulders in the wrong places can tighten up those nerves. Awareness of posture at all times and bring the shoulder blade to a set position is the most efficient way to decrease upper body nerve tension. Shoulder blade clocks helps integrate that mind-body connection to increase your awareness!
Self wrist mobilization optimizes the mechanics in the carpal tunnel. Freeing up the carpal tunnel happens subsequently, as a secondary effect of this exercise with proper hand and bone mechanics.
These are just a few of my favorite exercises for my patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. No single program works for everyone, so even if these don't work for you, there may be many others that do! If you find yourself struggling with symptoms of CTS, it may be worth it to see your local PT and get it checked out!
Remember, we can and we will get better together!
Dr. Justin C. Lin