Carpal tunnel syndrome is a debilitating disorder affecting the median nerve as it passes through the wrist and into the hand. In addition, median nerve compression can also occur in the neck region, making some patients’ problems more complex. At its essence, carpal tunnel syndrome is a disease of nerves but other tissues can also be affected. For example, the joints of the wrist may lose their mobility through a combination of wrist brace usage or pain-avoidance behavior. Because the hand is used less often, the shoulder and upper arm region may also be affected with tightness and weakness.
As pain continues, we may stop using a keyboard or playing certain sports or hobbies. All of this lack of activity makes muscles weaker and further impairs joint function. This is why it is important to maintain the flexibility of your joints and muscles if you have this disorder.
Two good stretches for the forearm and hand involve stretching into flexion (which lengthens the tissues on the back of the wrist) and moving your fingers backwards, stretching the palm and the front of the forearm. You can do these two stretches by using your other hand to bend the fingers backwards and pulling the back of the hand forward. If either of these motions causes more pain, then you should avoid them.
Three additional stretches involve the elbow, wrist, and neck. For the elbow, extend your arm out, stretching the front of the upper arm. You can also rotate the wrist by twisting it until the thumb points down maximally and outwards maximally. Check to see if you have the same flexibility on both sides as your goal will be to create symmetrical side-to-side movements.
The shoulder and neck are often neglected in carpal tunnel stretches but are critical because the nerve that goes through the wrist starts in the neck area and passes through the shoulder. Put both hands over your head and “reach for the stars.” You might also rotate your shoulders by moving your arms in large circles. This stretch will also affect the neck. It’s important to do your stretches slowly. Little by little, the nerve will gain more flexibility as it courses down the arm and this may help your hand symptoms.