Carpal tunnel exercises

Carpal tunnel exercises may relieve the pain and tingling in your fingers, but not if it includes the pinkie.

"I am still struggling with my painful tingling hands. The carpal tunnel surgery last Feb has not been effective despite two very neat scars. It has been suggested that my thyroid can be blamed for the painful scar tissue. Hopefully once it's in balance the pain will recede."


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This page was last updated by Dr Barrie Lewis on 12th July, 2019.


Ergonomics is more than good computor station design. It's the study of designing equipment that is intuitively friendly to your body. No amount of carpal tunnel exercises and good chiropractic is going to cure your carpal tunnel syndrome if you sit at an intrinsically bad computer station.

Note here that the eyes are level with the top of the screen, and your elbows must be LEVEL (or slightly higher) with the keyboard.

Don't slope your keyboard towards you by raising those little legs at the back. It puts your wrists further into extension, stretching the median nerve and wrist flexors.

A small table, roughly the height of your desk, and placed strategically at your mouse elbow, does wonders taking the strain off your whole mouse arm. So your whole forearm from elbow to hand is supported.

There are a variety of "mouse desks", "wrist pads"... that may help if you are having significant trouble. Even a small towel folded under your wrist may help. A chair that is high enough is absolutely vital, so your arms are level, or point slightly downwards... otherwise, tingling in arms.


Carpal tunnel exercises are worth trying before visiting either a surgeon or chiropractor if the tingling excludes the pinkie; then it's definitely not a median nerve problem and we look further for the source of the nerve irritation.

Stand in a comfortable position with feet apart, knees very slightly bent and your arms outstretched, with the hands and wrists in the neutral position.

Now extend your wrists, hold for a second or two. This stretches the wrist flexor muscles, and the median nerve.

Carpal tunnel exercises with wrists extended.


Does holding your wrists in this position (for up to two minutes) cause burning, tingling or a numb sensation over the thumb, index and middle (and sometimes part of the ring) fingers? This is called a Reverse Phalen's manoeuvre, perhaps the most definitive orthopaedic test for Carpal Tunnel syndrome, probably the main cause of tingling hands. CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME ...

Step 1: Hands neutral

Carpal tunnel exercises with hands in neutral position.

Step 2: Wrists extended

Carpal tunnel exercise with wrists again extended.

Step 3: Neutral

Return your hands to the neutral position and make fists.

Return wrists to neutral for carpal tunnel exercises.

Step 4: Make fists

Hold briefly. This contracts both the wrist flexor and extensor muscles.

Make fists for this carpal tunnel exercise.

Step 5: Flex your fists

Now flex your fists. Whilst this position cramps the median nerve in the carpal tunnel, and may also cause tingling if you hold this position, the alternating contraction and relaxation of the tendons in the wrist is healthy, and the movement helps to dissipate any fluid that has built up in the wrists overnight.

Now flex the wrists for another carpal tunnel exercise.

Step 6: Neutral

Then return to the neutral position.

Repeat at least ten times. About one minute.

Return wrists to the neutral position for this carpal tunnel exercise.

If you get no relief from this carpal tunnel exercise, try repeating it (if you have no shoulder pathology such as frozen shoulder or rotator cuff syndrome) with your hands above your head.

The cause of the Carpal tunnel syndrome is often in the neck, being a double crush syndrome. However, this is often also the cause of shoulder pathology, so you may have both shoulder and wrist problems.

You can also roll the wrists inwards (pronation) and outwards (supine). In short, move your arms, that in itself may the reduce your tingling in arms. Even try making windmills with your arm, if you have no shoulder pain.

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Tingling in arms and hands is a very common complaint at the Chiropractic Coalface. One cause is an irritated median nerve in one or more of the following positions:

  • A cervical facet syndrome ...
  • by a first rib subluxation in the neck,
  • by two muscles called the scalenes in the neck,
  • it may be squeezed by the two bellies of the pronator teres muscle in the forearm, and/or
  • in the carpal tunnel itself.

It may also be caused by conditions that cause fluid retention in the arms, such as premenstral tension, pregnancy and preeclampsia, and hypothyroidism.

Diagram illustrating how the inter-scalene triangle affects the thoracic outlet syndrome.
Tingling in arms and hands can be caused by the pronator teres muscle.
The carpal tunnel.

"I had a bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands and had them operated on in 2010. Since the op, I have severe shoulder pain and weakness and pain in my arm AND elbow."

- correspondence received at C-H. "

Comment: It's unlikely the surgery caused the shoulder and elbow problems. What is likely though, is that the cause was in the neck, hence the operations on the wrists didn't help, and because the neck problem wasn't addressed, the shoulder and elbow problems began, and would have begun anyway.

Before CTS surgery the neck and Thoracic Outlet should always be examined by a thorough, experienced chiropractor. (Do you get otherwise? As with medicine, half the Chiropractors graduated in the bottom half of the class!)

Remember, this is vital: True Carpal tunnel syndrome ALWAYS EXCLUDES THE PINKIE.

Carpal tunnel syndrome always excludes the pinkie.

Tingling in arms and hands

Tingling in arms and hands is a complex problem with many potential causes; a well constructed diagnosis is the first step in the solution of your problem. Carpal tunnel exercises can do no harm but by delaying the proper treatment, even they can be labelled iatrogenic illness; doctor caused disease.

Did you feel your were properly examined and questioned by your chiropractor or medical doctor? If not, go elsewhere if you are not getting better, sooner rather than later.


Your chiropractor will, or at least should try to find the cause of the tingling in your arms and hands. Otherwise these carpal tunnel exercises will most likely be no more effective than anti inflammatory medication.

At least the exercise will do no harm as the drugs may.


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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I have left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he is happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti-inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He is doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost pain-free. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he is well pleased; sixty-five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he has taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily stroll has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift; he has a short leg.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. X-rays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65-year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88-year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done. 

10. Mr X is a 71-year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a few months ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It is a non-complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she is doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38-year old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he could not sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71-year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors should not be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that is so much bunkum.

Do you have a problem that is not getting better?

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Brachial plexus

The brachial plexus of nerves that supply the arm.

Chiropractic first poster.
The inter scalene triangle through which the nerves to the arm must pass.
Diagram showing how the thoracic outlet can cause arm pain.
Thoracic outlet surgery is a very delicate business.

Arm pain

1. Shoulder

Shoulder pain.

Frozen Shoulder

A man with a frozen shoulder.

Rotator cuff

The muscles involved in a rotator cuff strain.

"My thumb, forefinger and middle finger went weak after cuff surgery."

"Hello John, I take it you've been back to the surgeon.

It's probably temporary inflammation of the median nerve, but of course could be worse... I'm afraid I don't think chiropractic has anything to offer at this stage.

Once everything has healed up, if you don't get the strength back, or your fingers remain numb and tingly, then I'd consult a local chiro to see if there is also a problem in your neck or the first rib.

Dr B"

Letter from reader looking for advice.

Rotator cuff surgery.

2. Elbow

Path of the radial nerve.

Elbow pain

The tennis elbow muscles.

3. Wrist

The median nerve entrapment sites.
Diagram showing how the pronator teres muscle can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

How bad is your arm shoulder hand pain?