Now that we have a picture of the tunnel in our mind, exercises for CTS will make more sense. CTS occurs when forceful, repetitive tasks are performed over a lengthy period of time (examples include practicing a musical instrument, assembly line work, carpentry, etc.). The FRICTION between the tendons (“shoe strings”) inside the tunnel creates swelling and that results in tightness.
EXERCISE #1 is ICING using an ice cube or frozen Dixie cup of water and rubbing it over the tunnel. First you will feel COLD, then BURNING, then ACHING, and finally NUMBNESS (“C-BAN”). Quit at numbness as the next stage of cooling is frostbite! Many of you may not look at “ice massage” as an exercise, but it’s very important!
EXERCISE #2 – Stand near a countertop, place the palm-side of your fingers on the edge of the counter and push until your wrist is bent backwards as far as you can stand it while keeping your elbow straight. Now reach across with your other hand and pull your thumb backwards as far as possible. Can you feel the “pull” in your mid forearm up to the elbows? GOOD! Hold that for three to five seconds, rest for five seconds and repeat it three times. Do this on both sides, even if the other hand is “normal” so you can feel the difference between the “tight” CTS side vs. the normal arm. CTS is often bilateral so you may not notice a difference. Now, set the timer on your smartphone to ring every hour to remind you to do this throughout the work day.
EXERCISE #3 is the fist / “bear claw” / hand open sequence. First, make a tight fist, followed by opening your hand while keeping the fingers flexed/bent, followed by opening the hand and fingers fully. Hold each position for two to three seconds and go through the sequence as often as needed (usually two to three times a session, multiple times a day) and do BOTH sides at the same time.
Why do these help? They break up adhesions between the tendons, their sheaths, and the surrounding tissues, and these exercises also force you to take “mini-breaks” during a busy day, which can reduce swelling in the carpal tunnel.
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