More often than not, pain at the inside of the wrist is diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome, but how many of us actually understand what the carpal tunnel is and how it can become an issue?
True carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is irritated or entrapped at the wrist. The tunnel is formed by the carpal bones (bones of the wrist) and a ligament (transverse carpal ligament). Within the tunnel is the median nerve and 9 flexor tendons of the fingers. All of the structures serve a purpose to provide protection and support of the very important nerve and tendons. Without the nerve, you’d lose sensation to the palm side of the thumb, index, middle, half of the ring finger as well as the backside of those same fingers. The tendons assist with grasping and grabbing, which are critical if you are to feed yourself, carry things and anything else you do with your hands.
Having suffered from nerve pain in my thumb, I can only imagine how incredibly painful and frustrating carpal tunnel syndrome can be. The current medical intervention is to relieve the pressure on the median nerve by alleviating the the tension from the ligament that makes the roof of the carpal tunnel. Any type of surgery will also leave you with additional scar tissue that needs to be worked with, but with this surgery, you also now have less support by way of the transverse carpal ligament, which can destabilize the entire hand and wrist.
For someone suffering from true carpal tunnel syndrome, I am sure the surgery 100% helps to alleviate the pain. But far too many people with wrist pain are automatically given the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome when that may not be what’s actually going on.
If you read my article on Chronic Pain and the Gate Theory, you can understand how pain is not always where the structural (or physical) issue is. Because nerves are channels that transmit signals to our brain and spinal cord, sometimes the message gets mixed up.
For example, while the inside of the wrist may truly hurt, it may be coming from a nerve entrapment higher up the chain. The median nerve actually starts all the way up in your shoulder as a branch of the brachial plexus. If there is irritation at any point of the nerve, it can send a pain signal that is interpreted anywhere along the nerve.
What is felt as wrist pain may actually be caused by tension in the neck, shoulder, elbow or forearm! Weakness can sometimes be the cause of tension, as your body tightens up to fake stability where there isn’t.
Here are three exercises you can try that may help alleviate your carpal tunnel and wrist pain symptoms:
1) Alleviate the tension of your forearms (where the tendons that pass through the carpal tunnel originate) with massage. My favorite way to do it is with a therapy ball at the wall. Check out my Forearm Fixer below for the how-to.
2) Give hanging a try! If some of the extra pressure on the carpal tunnel is caused by weakness, building the strength of your hands, wrists and forearms through hanging may be a solution. Asking the tissues of your upper body to bear your body’s weight against gravity will certainly improve your upper body strength. Start by leaning away from an object or the doorway (see minute 1:37) and build up to supporting the full weight of your body hanging.
3) You might also consider this simple wrist stretch, which is a part of my Self-Care Startup Guide. Pay close attention to how you feel after this stretch – if it increases symptoms, leave it out. You don’t have to be on the ground to do this – you can very easily stretch with your hands on your desktop. Spend anywhere from 90 seconds – 2 minutes here.
Do you suffer from hand or wrist pain? Did any of these exercises help with your carpal tunnel symptoms? Let me know some of your favorite ways to alleviate hand and wrist tension and pain in the comments below!
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