Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by burning, tingling and/or numbness in the fingers and hand, possibly with shooting pain in the wrist, hand, and forearm—all of which come and go. You could also experience a loss of grip strength. Symptoms start gradually and worsen if the condition isn’t addressed.
Here’s what’s happening: The carpal tunnel is a narrow, rigid passage between bones and ligaments in the wrist. The median nerve, a large nerve that runs through your forearm and into your hand via the carpal tunnel, can get compressed in the tunnel by irritated tendons or other swelling.
Since the median nerve is responsible for the feeling and movement in most of your hand (excluding the pinky), this causes all sorts of havoc in the hand in the forms of pain, tingling, numbness and possibly weakness.
Carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t thought of as a sports injury per se, but many athletes who depend on grip for their games, including cyclists, are candidates for it. Any injury to the wrist or overuse can cause swelling that compresses the median nerve.
Get it checked out. As soon as you have symptoms, see a doctor. The condition will worsen if you try to play through it or ignore it. It’s a pretty simple diagnosis. If the basic therapies found here don’t improve your symptoms and it’s warranted, a doctor can administer corticosteroid injections.
Employ dynamic rest. Avoid activities that engage the wrist, especially hard gripping. Using a wrist brace to immobilize the joint until your symptoms improve is a good idea. Use lower-body workouts to maintain fitness.
Stretch out. As the pain improves, you can do some simple stretches to rehab your wrist and get yourself back to normal activities. The idea here is to increase flexibility in the hand and wrist to take pressure off the median nerve in the carpal tunnel.
Hook, Bow, Clench. Hold your hand out with your wrist and fingers straight. Do the following moves without moving your wrist: Bend your fingers into hooks (by bending the top two knuckles), hold for several seconds, then straighten your fingers. Bend your fingers from their base at the third knuckle (as if they’re taking a bow), hold for several seconds, then straighten your fingers. Make a fist. Hold for several seconds, then straighten your fingers. Increase the number of reps as your condition improves.
Downward Wall Stretch. Stand facing a wall with your arm straight out in front of you, palm up and thumb out to the side. Press your fingers and palm against the wall to stretch your fingers downward. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds and release. Increase the number of reps as your condition improves. Bonus: While holding the stretch, use your free hand to gently pull your outstretched thumb back toward you so you feel a stretch in the base of your thumb and hand.
Fist/Wrist Stretch. Stand with your arm straight out in front of you, palm down. Make a fist. Bend your wrist toward the floor and hold for 10 seconds, then release the fist. Increase the number of reps as your condition improves.
Train for forearm and grip strength. If you play a “gripping” sport, you have to condition your arms, especially your forearms. There are two goals here: to have well-conditioned arms, wrists and fingers that take stress off the connective tissues and keep the median nerve from being compressed; and to stay in shape so you might be able to prevent a wrist injury that could lead to swelling and compression of the median nerve. Any weight training involving your hands, especially that done with kettlebells, will help your grip strength.
New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 33-time marathon finisher and 13-time Ironman. His book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.