Wrist stretching and strengthening for carpal tunnel relief

I just got back from a 3 day acro yoga training event, if you don’t know what that is- look it up! Acro, yoga, and fitness in general are things that i always wanted to do, but could never, ever, manage to fit into my routine before I cut out booze and got my shit together. I spent a lot of years trying to force myself to diet and exercise in order to stave off what was coming to someone who ate all meals at work or at restaurants, drank nightly, smoked, and lived a pretty sedentary existence. I don’t think it will come as any surprise to learn that none of it ever stuck. After a while, trying and failing just became so exhausting that I found myself on the road to real change.

Which was great. If you are on the road to change, or looking at the road, or thinking about looking at the road- great. Getting yourself cleaned up and in shape will do wonders for your life and for your career. But the job will still be there. The hazards, the long hours, the wear and tear on your body is something that you will be dealing with throughout your career, healthy or not. For me, one of the most major challenges to overcome was wrist pain and lack of wrist strength.

We need our wrists to do pretty much everything. As a line cook, prep cook, server, baker- your wrists are an incredibly important tool for your job. Doesn’t it seem unfair that they are such fragile things? Carpal tunnel, wrist pain, hand pain, and tendon pain plague the industry. As a baker, I spent hours rolling dough and scooping cookies- just knowing what I was doing to my body. As a cook, the pan flips, the freaking tongs! Are we doomed to be in pain for our whole lives? Maybe not.

One of the things that I am learning as part of my acro training is wrist strengthening for handstands and hand balancing. I have noticed the relationship between this training and how my wrists feel at work. It’s pretty incredible. By doing daily stretches to lengthen the muscles and the tendons, and also daily exercises to strengthen, I have been able to almost eliminate pain and do things with my wrists that I had given up doing years ago for fear of injury.

This first set is designed for people who have carpal tunnel, or wrist pain already. They are gentle and effective. Below, I have included a few more intense stretches and strengthening exercises, for those of you who are injury free. You can watch the video of me demoing all of these exercises by clicking here.

Exercises to start gaining mobility and strength:


Spider push ups:

  1. Start standing or sitting, with your hands together in prayer position.

  2. Spread fingers apart as far you can, then “steeple” the fingers by separating palms of hands, but keeping fingers together.

This stretches the palmar fascia, carpal tunnel structures, and median nerve, the nerve that gets irritated in a carpal tunnel syndrome.

The Shake:

This is as straightforward as it sounds: shake hands like you’ve just washed them and are trying to air dry them.

Do this for a minute or two every hour to keep flexor muscles of your hands and its median nerve from getting cramped and tight while you work. Easiest to fit into your routine- do it after you wash your hands, it will become a habit!

Stretch Armstrong:

This last exercise is the deepest stretch of the set:

  1. Place one arm straight out in front of you, elbow straight, with your wrist extended and fingers facing the floor.

  2. Spread your fingers slightly and use your other hand to apply gentle pressure to the downward-facing hand, stretching your wrist and fingers as far as you’re able.

  3. When you reach your maximum point of flexibility, hold this position for about 20 seconds.

  4. Switch hands and repeat.

Do this two to three times on each side, and try to do this stretch every hour. After a few weeks of doing this multiple times a day, you’ll notice significant improvement in your wrist flexibility.

Advanced wrist strengthening and flexibility:

Wrist stretch, palms facing down:

  1. Start on your knees, with toes curled under.

  2. Place your hands on the ground palm down, fingers facing your knees.

  3. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch, then back off. Repeat this pulse 10 times, on the 10th one, hold for 10 seconds.

  4. Do 3 sets.

This is not supposed to hurt! You could seriously screw your wrists by over stretching here. Do what feels good, work up to a deeper stretch in a few weeks.

Wrist and forearm stretch, palm up:

  1. Same kneeling position, toes curled under. Place the back of one hand on the ground with your fingers pointed toward your knees.

  2. Place the other hand gently on the palm of the down hand to support it and hold it in place.

  3. Lean forward until you have a nice, gentle downward pressure. Holding firmly but gently with the top hand, slowly rotate the inside of your elbow forward as far as is comfortable.

  4. Repeat 10 times, pausing on the 10th time for 10 seconds.

  5. Switch hands!

Go for 2 or 3 sets on each hand. You may need to work up to this! This is my very favorite stretch.

Palm lifts:

  1. Back on your knees, palms on the floor, fingers facing away from your knees.

  2. Slowly lift your palms up until just the fingers and the knuckles are on the floor.

  3. Put them down and repeat about 10 times. This is great for strengthening. You can work up to doing this exercise in a down dog!

If you want to see the video of me demoing these exercises, you can check it out on facebook in my Chef Power Group, a group all about staying healthy while working in the industry. Anyone in the industry is welcome to join, participate in discussions, or ask questions. I am always there and happy to help with health questions!

You can also watch it on my business page, Industry Health.

Laura McwilliamsComment