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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. 

It’s like parts of your hands are going numb, and you’re not sure what’s happening. 

These 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.

Table of Contents

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. This 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
  • Repetitive wrist and hand movements, such as typing, moving a computer mouse, playing a musical instrument, etc.
  • 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 as 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 or numbness – The most common symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome is tingling or numbness in the hand or fingers, especially the thumb, index, and middle fingers. This sensation is often described as a “pins and needles” feeling.
  • Pain or discomfort – Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause pain or discomfort in the hand, wrist, or forearm. The pain may be sharp or dull and may radiate up the arm.
  • Weakness – Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause weakness in the hand or difficulty gripping objects. This can make it difficult to perform tasks that require fine motor skills, such as buttoning a shirt or holding a pencil.
  • Swelling – Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause swelling in the fingers or hand, which may make it difficult to wear rings or other jewelry.
  • Worsening symptoms at night – Many people with carpal tunnel syndrome experience worse symptoms at night, which can disrupt sleep.
  • Reduced range of motion – In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause a reduced range of motion in the wrist or hand.

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

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome may vary depending on the cause and severity of the condition. 

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

Wrist splinting, medications, ultrasound therapy, and physical therapy for carpal tunnel are some of the most common treatment options. In severe cases, surgery may also be suggested.

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.

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. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome can help strengthen the wrist and increase mobility. 

Physical therapy exercises for carpal tunnel generally include gentle exercises that focus on the nerves and tendons of the wrist and hand to help reduce pain and discomfort. 

If surgery is required, physical therapy is also usually recommended to aid in recovery.


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.

Physical Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Will PT Help?

Does physical therapy work for carpal tunnel syndrome? 

The answer is yes, it can.

Carpal tunnel physical therapy may 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.

Physical Therapy Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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

Physical therapy exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome typically aim to reduce pain and inflammation, improve range of motion, and strengthen the muscles and tendons in the affected area. 

Here are some common exercises that may be included in a physical therapy program for carpal tunnel syndrome:

Wrist Gliding Exercises

Glides are exercises that can help to improve the mobility and flexibility of the median nerve, which passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. Here are some examples of median nerve glides that may be helpful for carpal tunnel syndrome:


Wrist Flexor Stretches

Hold your arm straight out in front of you with your palm facing down. 

Use your other hand to gently pull your fingers back towards your wrist until you feel a stretch in your forearm. 

Hold for 15-30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other arm.


Wrist Extensor Stretches

Hold your arm straight out in front of you with your palm facing up. 

Use your other hand to gently push your fingers down towards the floor until you feel a stretch in the back of your forearm. 

Hold for 15-30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other arm.

Prayer Stretches

The prayer exercise, also known as the prayer stretch, is a simple yet effective exercise that can help relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Here’s how to do the prayer exercise:

Sit on a chair or on the floor with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed.

Bring your palms together in front of your chest, with your fingers pointing upwards and your elbows out to the sides.

Slowly lower your hands towards your waist, keeping your palms pressed together and your elbows out to the sides.

Stop when you feel a stretch in your wrists and forearms, and hold the position for 15-30 seconds.

Slowly lift your hands back up to the starting position and repeat for several repetitions.

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. 

Many of our clients have found relief, and their testimonials speak for themselves

At In Motion O.C., our physical therapists are here to give your wrists some TLC (Therapy, Love, and Care) to get you back on track. Many of our clients have found relief, and their testimonials speak for themselves

Contact us today to request your free screening


The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.

In Motion O.C.