Dr. Eric Cobb back with you this week.
I want to talk to you about carpal tunnel syndrome. One of the most common questions that we get in our info account and people calling the office is, “Hey, you know, I’m having some problems with my hands. Is there something that you can tell me to do that will help?”
Now this is something that I consider very, very important for a couple of different reasons. If you have any kind of issues with your hands, what normally follows that – if you begin to lose grip strength particularly – is that your total activity level tends to go down.
If you look at the research on this, we see this throughout the lifespan. As people get older, they begin to have more trouble with their hands. Their hands get weaker.
That prevents them from participating in other activities, working in the yard, working in the house, participating in exercise.
Personally, what I’ve seen is that as people lose hand function, we see a general decline in health. As I said, this is not just personal experience, it’s borne out in the research.
What we want to show you today are a couple of exercises that you can use to improve your grip strength and if you happen to suffer from any kind of pain or dysfunction from what’s called like carpal tunnel syndrome or other hand and wrist problems, these exercises could be a lifesaver.
I just want to show them to you. Now, obviously since I’m not there observing you and examining you, if you have problems in these area, you want to make sure that you clear these exercises with your doctor or healthcare provider before you play with them, but I’m going to show you how to do them in a very safe and simple way.
Remember, like I said, our goal here is to decrease wrist and hand strain and improve our grip strength.
If you even want to test this, you can try opening a jar or something, see how that feels. Do the exercises and then try it again. See if you notice a difference. In most cases, you should notice not just a small one, but actually quite a large one, all right.
Here’s how this works. Lots of people give out wrist stretches and other things for carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries in the hands.
What I’m going to focus, on because this is the Z-Health focus, are the nerves that actually feed the hands. If you’re not familiar with this, you have nerves that leave this area of your neck, they travel down your arm through your forearm down into your hand and fingers.
Now, the issue that can arise is that if you had a neck injury, maybe a whiplash, you’ve had a shoulder injury, you’ve taken a bad fall and injured your elbow or wrist, the nerve that feeds the hand can become entrapped under muscle or ligament or some kind of other tissue. As a result, not do a good job of feeding the muscles of the hand.
We’re going to show you a couple of exercises that are designed to, we call it floss the nerve or mobilize the nerve through these tissues.
As I said, we’re going to do it in a real gentle way.
What I want you to start off with is thinking about an intensity scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “I don’t feel anything at all,” 10 being “This is really, really significant and severe.” What we want to do with these exercises, because nerves tend to be sensitive, is I want you to keep the intensity at three or below. Remember that, three or below. We’re taking it really, really easy.
The first exercise that we’re going to do is for the nerve that feeds your thumb, your index finger, and your middle finger. This is the median nerve. This is the one that’s typically compromised if you have had or been told that you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Here’s how the exercise works. We’re going to stand in good posture and make sure that we have a nice lengthened spine and we’re going to work on this arm . You’re going to let the arm hang by your side. The first movement is going to be to spread the fingers. The second movement is to pull the fingers back. If my palm is facing the wall behind me, I’m going to lift my fingers up toward the ceiling.
The next thing that I’m going to do is I’m going to rotate my shoulder out. I’m going to turn my fingers to be outside. Now, as I do that, you may already be getting a little bit of a tingling feeling into your hand and if you are, you don’t have to go through the rest of the exercise. You can stop right there.
To repeat, spread the fingers. Pull the fingers up to the ceiling. Turn the hand out. We want to make sure that our elbow is now locked straight. Now, we’re going to slowly lift the arm out to the side. That’s going to intensify the stretch. You’re then going to pull the shoulder blade down slightly and tilt the head away slightly.
Now, in this position, you should be getting quite a lot of tension in the nerve and you’ll be able to feel it. At this point we want to do the mobilization so we’re going to do three different things.
The first thing is we’re going to raise our shoulder blade. That should take the tension off. We’re then going to pull our shoulder blade back down. Puts the tension back on. We’re going to do that three times. One, two, and three.
Now, we’re going to hold the shoulder blade down. We’re going to bend the elbow. Take the tension off. Straight the elbow. Bend, straighten, bend, straighten. Finally, we’re going to hold everything in that stretch position and we’re going to bend our wrist forward, pull our wrist back, forward, back. Last one, forward and back, and relax and shake that out.
Now, please remember, you have to keep the intensity low. Every subsequent position that we add in intensifies the mobilization of the nerve. If you’re able to just stand upright, stretch your fingers and pull your fingers up toward the ceiling and you already feel some mobilization occurring, that little tingling feeling, like I said, stop there and just do the same small motions to mobilize the nerve in this position.
That’s going to be exercise number one.
Exercise number two is for your little finger and your ring finger. This is called the ulnar nerve. It passes right through here and it’s known as the funny bone nerve, if you ever hit your elbow.
Here’s how we’re going to mobilize that one. It starts exactly the same way.
Nice, tall spine; good neck position. From here, it begins exactly the same. My arm is hanging down. I’m going to spread my fingers. I’m going to pull my fingers up to the ceiling. Here’s where it begins to get different. Now, I’m going to bend my elbow and I’m going to bend it to keep it fairly tight. I’m going to raise my arm until my upper arm is parallel to the floor and then going to roll my arm out to the side.
Now, from here, a couple of important things are going to happen. The first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to take my thumb and I’m going to rotate it forward. Normally, when I rotate it forward you’ll begin feeling that little tingling sensation in the little finger. You’re then going to pull the shoulder blade down, gentle head tilt away.
This is the full setup for the exercise.
Now, the way that we’re going to mobilize the nerve is really simple. We’re going to rotate the thumb back and rotate it forward.
We’ll do that three times. We had to hold everything else just as it is. We’re then going to go to our wrist, we’ll bend the wrist forward, pull it back, forward, back, forward and back. Then the last one we’re going to do our shoulder blade. We’re going to raise our shoulder blade. That should take the tension off. Drop our shoulder blade – tension on.
Do that two more times and shake it out.
Now, if you’re moving relatively comfortably, at a comfortable pace, this should take you about 30 seconds to do both, the median nerve and ulnar nerve on one hand, 30 seconds on the other hand.
My recommendation is that you test this.
As I said, test your grip strength. See how your hands feel. If you have any kind of pain or discomfort, see how it responds to that.
If you get a good benefit from this, plan to do these exercises two or three times a day particularly if you are encased in a cubicle each day spending a ton of time typing, working on fine motor stuff on, a phone or whatever.
It is a potential lifesaver, not just in terms of pain but also as I said, in activity and exercise as you get older.
That’s our first look into carpal tunnel and grip strength.
Next week, I’m going to take you through another exercise which is much more unusual.
Most people, they focus on the hands, focus on the muscles that do this. We also have to focus on the muscles that open the hand, and that’s what we’ll get into next week.