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Physical Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Information, Exercises, and More

You are experiencing a tingling sensation in your hand that you can’t shake off.
It feels like the tips of your fingers are being shocked.
This could be signs of carpal tunnel syndrome.
In this guide, we will cover the signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, and treatment options like physical therapy that may be available to you.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome refers to the compression and inflammation of the median nerve.

The median nerve runs through the carpal tunnel — a narrow passageway of ligament and bones in the wrist.

The median nerve controls movement and feeling in the thumb and all fingers except for the pinky.

When the median nerve becomes compressed, it can trigger numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and arm.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Anything that creates compression of the median nerve can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

Some common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • A wrist fracture causing the narrowing of the carpal tunnel or causing median nerve irritation
  • Swelling and irritation from rheumatoid arthritis causing median nerve compression
  • Inflammation of surrounding tendons creating median nerve compression

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk Factors

Carpal tunnel syndrome may develop from a combination of risk factors instead of one definitive cause.
Some risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Anatomical problems. Deformities of the wrist bones, having a smaller carpal tunnel, and arthritis can cause compression of the median nerve. Wrist fractures or dislocations can also aggravate the median nerve and cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Inflammatory conditions. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis that cause inflammation of surrounding tendons can cause median nerve compression.
  • Nerve damaging conditions. Conditions that increase your risk for nerve damage, like diabetes, can increase your risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Other medical conditions. Obesity, menopause, thyroid disorders, kidney failure, and lymphedema are conditions that can increase your risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Gender. One study shows that women are twice as likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men. This can happen because women have relatively smaller carpal tunnels than men.
  • Medications. Some studies have shown a link between a breast cancer treatment drug called anastrozole and carpal tunnel syndrome development.
  • Body fluid retention. Fluid retention can increase the pressure in the carpal tunnel and irritate the median nerve. Studies show that pregnancy can increase your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to increased fluid retention.
  • Work occupations. Jobs that require repetitive motion in the wrist like working on an assembly line or strong vibration from using work tools can aggravate the median nerve.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms usually have a gradual onset.

If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you may experience the following:

  • Tingling and/or numbness in your fingers or hand
  • Tingling and/or numbness that travels up your arm
  • Weakness in your hand that may cause you to drop objects

It is important to speak with your doctor about your symptoms, as other hand injuries need to be ruled out.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment can vary depending on the severity of the condition.

In mild cases, carpal tunnel syndrome may respond well to conservative measures, while some severe cases may require surgery.

Here are some treatment options that may be available for you.

Wrist Splint

Your doctor may prescribe a wrist splint for you to wear at night.
This can help immobilize the wrist and relieve your symptoms so you can sleep more comfortably.
Although the splint is only worn at night, it can also help prevent daytime symptoms.
Wearing a wrist splint can be a good treatment option for pregnant women as it involves no medication.


Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen may be prescribed to help relieve short term pain.
Corticosteroids may also be injected into the carpal tunnel to help relieve pain and reduce swelling that is causing compression of the median nerve.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help strengthen the wrist and increase mobility.
Gentle exercises focused on the nerves and tendons can help reduce pain.
If surgery is required, physical therapy is also usually recommended to aid in recovery.

Ultrasound Therapy

High-frequency vibrations from an ultrasound machine may be used to help decrease symptoms.
The ultrasound machine raises the temperature in the body tissue to help reduce pain.
Although research has shown inconsistent results with this therapy, a course of treatment spanned out over several weeks may help reduce your pain and symptoms.


If you don’t respond well to other treatments or your carpal tunnel syndrome is severe, surgery may be required.
Carpal tunnel release is a surgical procedure that relieves pressure on the median nerve by cutting the transverse carpal ligament, which presses against the nerve.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Does physical therapy help carpal tunnel syndrome?

The answer is yes.

Physical therapy can help reduce your pain and improve hand function.

One study shows that physical therapy and surgery both provided similar improvement for pain, but physical therapy was shown to help improve pain faster short-term.

Physical therapy is also recommended after surgery to help regain mobility and strengthen the hand and wrist.

Best Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Exercises

It is important to consult a Doctor of Physical Therapy before attempting any exercises on your own.

Let’s take a look at some exercises that could be included in your treatment.

Gliding Exercises

Gliding exercises focus on the tendons and median nerve in your wrist.

These gentle stretches and movements are aimed at decreasing pain symptoms and improving the way your tendons move through the carpal tunnel.

The main objective of these exercises is to increase mobility and decrease pain.

Some examples of gliding exercises include:

  • Wrist flexion and extension stretches
  • Median nerve glides
  • Tendon glides

Carpal Tunnel Stretches

Your physical therapist may prescribe a special hand traction device that helps stretch the carpal tunnel and make it wider.

Widening the carpal tunnel can help relieve median nerve compression and reduce symptoms.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

In Motion O.C. has helped thousands of people like you recover from carpal tunnel syndrome.

As the #1 rated physical therapy clinic on Yelp! And Google, we know how to provide top-notch treatment that works.

We are here to help get rid of your pain and symptoms so you can focus on the important things in your life and not your carpal tunnel syndrome pain.

*This information about physical therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.