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Carpal tunnel physical therapy includes stretches, strength exercises, stabilization splints, and pain management treatments. These treatments should be done under the supervision of a physician and physical therapist to ensure that the person is not causing further harm to the hand, fingers, or wrist. Carpal tunnel is a common injury, and surgical treatments for the condition are the most commonly performed type of hand surgery.
Compression of the median nerve that runs down the arm into the hand is known as carpal tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is a narrow opening made of bones and ligaments, and if the nerves, tendons, or ligaments that run through the tunnel become inflamed or irritated, the opening becomes smaller and can squeeze the nerve. Movements by the hand or fingers that are controlled by the impulses of the nerve can become painful and swelling may occur. This condition is usually the result of an injury or from repetitive motions of the hand or fingers, which cause irritation. A physical therapist may incorporate exercises that teach the person how to do certain activities a different way in order to avoid a repeat injury to the wrist.
Stretches and strength exercises for the hand and fingers can help to widen the gap of the carpal tunnel and reduce weakness of the muscles. Exercises after a surgical procedure may help the person gain back his or her range of motion in the hand, or the hand movements may work the tendons, ligaments, and nerves as they glide through the opening of the carpal tunnel into the wrist. Squeezing a soft ball or roll of putty will help to strengthen the hand and wrist muscles. Other exercises can be completed to reduce swelling, and sometimes a physician may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or injections during carpal tunnel physical therapy exercises. This type of physical therapy is the most important element of a person’s overall recovery from a carpal tunnel injury.
Carpal tunnel physical therapy may also include the incorporation of a splint or bandage to be worn during stretching exercises or during normal daily activities. Many splints recommended for carpal tunnel injuries will prevent the wrist from bending forwards or backward so that the median nerve is not irritated. Depending on the severity of the injury, a splint may only be necessary while the person is sleeping. A physical therapist may instruct the person on how to wrap the wrist, forearm, and fingers with a soft bandage to stabilize the hand during exercises and to prevent further injury. During therapy, cold treatments will be applied to the affected area to reduce swelling and pain during carpal tunnel physical therapy exercises.