Nearly 80% of Americans sit at a computer for the majority, if not all, of their work day. This is contributing to an epidemic of health problems related to a sedentary lifestyle. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common problem associated with prolonged computer use. It has become one of the most common nerve related problems in the U.S. The good news is that if your symptoms are mild to moderate, some simple hand stretches may be enough to adequately manage your pain.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is literally a tunnel that runs through the center of the palm side of the wrist. It houses all of the hand's flexor tendons (how we bend our fingers) and the median nerve. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there is too much pressure on the median nerve in this tunnel due to things like inflammation, injury, or poor wrist posturing. Since the median nerve is what provides sensation and muscle use to the palm side of your hand, you will experience symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness and even weakness if it becomes more advanced. Due to its nature, typically these symptoms affect only one hand at a time.
How to rule out other health issues that have similar symptoms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a well-known disorder so it may be the first thing that comes to mind when your hand starts to hurt. However, there are many other musculoskeletal issues that have similar symptoms. Make sure to talk to your doctor if your symptoms are worsening. Carpal tunnel symptoms are very specific to the palm of the hand and tend to be exacerbated with prolonged wrist flexion, hand use or any gripping activity. The median nerve itself starts at the neck and runs through the entire arm. Ruling out nerve damage in the neck, shoulder and arm in addition to muscle strains will ensure you have the right diagnosis. Regardless of your diagnosis, some simple hand stretches can help promote circulation to this sensitive area.
5 hand stretches for Capral Tunnel Syndrome.
Since carpal tunnel syndrome specifically affects the median nerve, it is important to keep in mind that any stretch or movement that exacerbates your symptoms needs to be modified or stopped. Nerve tissues are very sensitive. Forcing a stretch that is painful will only make it worse, so be gentle.
Try starting with a 10-30 second hold 2-3 times for each stretch.
1. Wrist flexion. Sitting comfortably with the hand relaxed, gently bend the wrist so that the palm of your hand gets closer to the wrist. You can apply a little over pressure with the other hand if it feels good. To progress the stretch, you can curl the fingers under and/or straighten out the elbow.
2. Wrist extension. Resting as described above, use the opposite hand to gently push the hand back into wrist extension (opposite of flexion described above). You again can progress by straightening out the elbow.
3. Hand "shakes." When symptoms come on, simply taking a moment to move the wrist and hand in a rhythmic motion can provide relief. Simply alternate between making a fist and stretching out the fingers as far as possible as many times as needed.
4. Finger taps. This is another great movement that can promote circulation to the wrist and hand. Alternate touching the thumb to each of the fingers, applying gentle pressure as they touch if it is tolerated.
5. Doorway chest stretch. This is a great full upper body stretch to get everything feeling looser after sitting at your desk. Find a doorway and place your arms on each side of the frame in a "touchdown" position. Gently lean into the doorway until you feel a stretch in the chest. If tolerated, try adding some gentle wrist flexion as described above in #1!
Other options for treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
1. Check your posture. Posture plays a large role in your body's ability to adapt to the stress of sitting. Make sure you are in good alignment from head to wrist to toe to minimize aggravation!
2. Wrist/finger strengthening. Simple wrist and finger exercises are a great way to encourage circulation and healing. There are lots of options out there, but they key is not to force any of them.
4. Get a brace. A brace can take pressure off the median nerve and keep your wrist in a more optimal position as it heals. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist for recommendations.
5. Pay attention to your grip. You may not realize how hard you are gripping throughout the day with seemingly benign activities like driving, eating, writing, typing and exercise. Take note of how hard you are gripping and try to relax when possible. This a simple yet very effective way to promote healing of the median nerve!
Nerve damage is no joke. Once the sensitive nerve tissues are damaged, these slow healing tissues can leave you out of commission or feeling miserable chronically. The best option is to be preventative and take frequent breaks from your computer. Hand stretches are a great place to start. If it's not enough, consult a trusted health care professional such as a physical therapist, massage therapist or orthopedist.