The Best Stretches and Exercises for Wrist Pain and Carpal Tunnel
Yes, sitting is the new smoking, and that desk job might just kill you. But that’s not all. Sitting in front of a computer all day might also be causing you a lot of pain right now, in your hands and wrists.
Carpal tunnel syndrome—characterized by pain, numbness, and tingling in your hand caused by a compressed median nerve, a major nerve running through your wrist—is super-common, especially given the posture many of us maintain all day while pecking away at our keyboards.
Why Your Wrists Hurt
“The wrists are like bottlenecks of the body, and sitting at a desk typing or using your phone for a long time will cause stagnation and stop the flow of blood through them,” says Krissy Jones, co-founder of Sky Ting Yoga in New York City, who often hears complaints of wrist pain from students in the studio. “The muscles in the wrist get tight and start to press on the nerve.”
Working out some of that tightness can help combat the pain, but you might want to look a little further from the source, too. Turns out keeping your hands in typing and texting mode from dawn to dusk isn’t the only cause of the problem. “The nerve that causes carpal tunnel runs up the side of your neck, so if you are sitting and looking at a computer all day, that nerve is compromised,” says Todd Sinett, founder of Tru Whole Care in NYC. “Imagine a hose with a kink at the top of your neck—the nerve gets disrupted, causing wrist pain and discomfort.”
But even if you’re confined to sitting in front of a computer 24/7, you don’t just have to succumb to the posture and take the pain. We asked Jones and Sinett for their favorite stretches and strength moves to loosen up pressure on your wrists (and that median nerve, specifically). Do them anywhere—yes, even at your desk—to ease those aches in no time.
The Best Exercises to Relieve Achy Wrists
1. Wrist Curl
Sit on a chair or bench and hold a light weight in one hand. Bend your elbow 90 degrees and rest it on your leg (or bench) so your forearm is parallel to the floor. Turn your palm so it faces the ground, then slowly rotate at your wrist until your palm faces the ceiling. Return to start and complete 10 total reps, then repeat on opposite side.
2. Hand Squeeze
Squeeze a soft stress ball. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Do this up to three times a day.
3. Thumb-to-Finger Touches
One at a time, touch the tip of each finger to the tip of your thumb so they make an O-shape. Repeat a few times.
4. Tabletop Circle
Start on all fours. Turn hands so fingers point toward knees. Move body to the right and back, making large circles clockwise, rotating at wrists. Continue for 5 circles, then repeat in the opposite direction.
5. Fist Bump Circle
Kneel on shins. Make two fists and bring knuckles together at chest height in front of you. Lean forward to place top of hands on floor, then rotate body in big circles to the right. Do 5 circles, then repeat in opposite direction.
6. Finger Lift
Start on all fours. Keeping your weight evenly distributed and shoulders directly over wrists, lift palms and raise hands to your fingertips. Slowly reverse movement to return palms to floor. Continue for 10 to 15 reps.
7. Chest Opener
Stand in a doorway and place forearms and palms on either side of the frame. Lean forward until you feel the stretch in your chest and front of shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds. (You can also open your chest lying down on the Backbridge, a curved tool Sinett developed to help decompress the spine.)
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