3 Stretches to Prevent or Relieve Carpal Tunnel

These movements can help with pain, numbness and tingling in your hands and fingers

If you’ve been experiencing numbness, tingling and pain in your thumb, index finger, middle finger and forearm, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. The common condition occurs when there’s an increase in pressure on the median nerve, which provides feeling to your thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.

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Repetitive movements that use your fingers like computer use, factory work or hobbies can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Anyone can develop it, with your chance of getting carpal tunnel increasing as you age.

Carpal tunnel exercises can reduce your symptoms. For maximum relief, chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC, recommends these carpal tunnel stretches, which you can do throughout the day.

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Thumb stretch

  1. With the same hand, make a fist around your thumb.
  2. Bend wrist down to feel the stretch in the thumb and wrist.
  3. With your other hand, apply additional pressure to the stretch, while resisting the additional pressure with stretching hand.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat four times.

“This is a good stretch because the thumb gets so much overuse from cell phones,” says Dr. Bang. “This overuse leads to inflammation of the tendons.”

Carpal stretch

  1. Place your palm flat on a wall with your fingers pointing down. Keep your elbow straight. You should feel a pull on the palm side of your forearm. 
  2. As you stretch, apply counter-resistance to the wall by trying to flex your wrist. Think about it like the wall is preventing your hand from moving.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat four times.

“Stretching these wrist flexors is imperative to treating or avoiding carpal tunnel. The wrist flexors are typically the most used muscle group in the forearm so they tend to be over-developed,” says Dr. Bang. “When they’re over-developed, they will cause collapse of the carpal arch, which can press on the median nerve — the nerve responsible for carpal tunnel.”

Extensor stretch

  1. Make a fist. Keep your elbow straight.
  2. Reach under and pull back on your fist. You should feel a pull on the top of your forearm.
  3. As you stretch, apply counter-resistance with your fist to intensify the stretch.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat four times.

When to see a doctor

If you try these stretches for carpal tunnel and your pain worsens you may need to see a doctor who can performs tests to confirm you have carpal tunnel syndrome. (Other conditions that could be causing you pain include arthritis and cubital tunnel syndrome.)

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A doctor can also recommend a treatment to help alleviate your pain and discomfort. Treatment options include:

In addition to the carpal tunnel syndrome stretching above, you can make lifestyle changes like:

  • Avoiding bending and extending your wrists repeatedly.
  • Taking frequent breaks from repetitive activities.
  • Making modifications to your workspace like raising or lowering your chair and changing the position of your computer keyboard.
  • Sleeping with your wrists straight and not curled.  

“There’s a lot you can do to prevent or treat carpal tunnel. If you’re still having symptoms despite daily stretching and making lifestyle changes you need to reach out to your doctor to find the true source of your carpal tunnel-like symptoms,” says Dr. Bang. “Other conditions like fluid retention, pregnancy, menopause, thyroid disorders and inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis will mimic carpal tunnel syndrome.”

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