Foam Rolling for Carpal Tunnel & Wrist Pain

foam rolling technique for carpal tunnel pain relief

Reviewed by Nic Bartolotta, MPT, HHP

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) affects thousands of people each year, causing extreme wrist pain & discomfort that makes even the most basic tasks unbearable. If you're struggling with CTS, you've likely already experimented with splints, stretching, physical therapy, and potentially even surgery. 

These likely did little to improve your condition. If that sounds like you, this foam rolling technique is for you. Physical therapist Nic Bartolotta, MPT, HHP, will show you how to treat your carpal tunnel so you can regain strength, improve flexibility, and get your life back. 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: What It Is, Symptoms, and Treatment

What is carpal tunnel syndrome? 

CTS is a nerve condition that affects the hand & wrist. It occurs when the median nerve that runs through the wrist's carpal tunnel becomes compressed. 

Repetitive wrist motions like typing, mouse use, writing, and sewing generally cause it. However, it can also be caused by sports and other activities with repetitive grasping hand movements, such as weightlifting, golf, and trade work (plumbers, electricians, gardeners, etc.). 

However, these aren't the only causes of carpal tunnel. These are other common triggers: 

  • Joint & bone diseases like arthritis, osteoarthritis, and/or rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Hormonal or metabolic changes, especially in women (things like menopause, pregnancy, and/or thyroid imbalance)
  • Significant changes in blood sugar levels are commonly associated with type 2 diabetes.
  • Major wrist injuries like a sprain, dislocation, and/or break
  • A family history of carpal tunnel syndrome

Symptoms of CTS

Though symptoms vary in severity from person to person, CTS usually causes numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain in the hand and wrist. CTS is often caused by repetitive motions, such as typing or using a mouse, but other factors, such as pregnancy, diabetes, or certain medical conditions, can also cause it. Treatment options can include rest and splints, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery.

Treatment: Can carpal tunnel be treated? 

Treatment options are available for CTS, though they're typically only effective if diagnosed and applied early on. After your initial diagnosis, your healthcare provider will likely suggest non-surgical options like splinting your wrist, physical therapy, and over-the-counter pain relievers. For more severe conditions, they may recommend surgical options.

Unfortunately, the success rate of the non-surgical options is low. The surgical options are meant to reduce your pain, but you'll never regain full strength & mobility in your wrist. 

But if you diagnose CTS early on, you can treat it by massaging the surrounding deep tissue with the Rolflex foam roller. And in a matter of weeks, you'll experience reduced pain, increased strength, and improved range of motion.

How to Foam Roll Your Wrists to Eliminate Carpal Tunnel Pain

Outer Forearm

As with any pain or injury, treatment begins on the opposite side of the pain. In the case of carpal tunnel, we'll start by foam rolling the outer forearm opposite the median nerve. 

Place the deep-tissue foam roller on the outside of your forearm, just below the elbow. Adjust the handles to fit around the arm, then squeeze to begin massaging and breaking down the scar tissue. Focus on the top half of your forearm, keeping the pressure above the wrist. 

As you foam roll the area, you'll notice that some areas are more tender. These are called trigger points. You'll use the Rolflex to perform active release therapy (ART) to release the pressure at these points.

foam rolling the outer forearm to treat carpal tunnel

Place the foam roller directly over a trigger point and squeeze the handles to slightly increase the pressure. While leaving it in place, perform 5-10 repetitions of each of the following movements:  

  • Flex your wrist up (extension) and down (flexion)
  • Rotate your wrist to the inside (pronation) and outside (supination)
  • Make a fist and rotate your wrist in both the clockwise and counterclockwise directions

As you perform these movements, the Rolflex will actively break down the hard, connective myofascial tissue, causing pain and discomfort. Repeat this process for each trigger point on the upper part of your forearm. 

Outer Wrist

Tighten the Rolflex to fit snugly around your wrist but not so tight that it aggravates carpal tunnel pain. Gently massage your outer wrist for 30-60 seconds, working to loosen up the tendons near your hand. 

Again, some areas will be more sensitive. Using the same wrist motion techniques as you did on the outer forearm, engage in active release therapy to release the tension in your lower wrist. 

Inner Forearm

Rotate the Rolflex to position the foam roller on your inner forearm, just below your elbow. Just as you did in step #1, slowly massage the upper half of your forearm, releasing the tension pressing on the median nerve.

foam rolling inner forearm to treat carpal tunnel

 

Review any trigger points you noticed after foam-rolling the entire top half of your inner forearm. Again, 5-10 repetitions of each of the following wrist movements: 

  • Wrist extension & flexion
  • Wrist pronation & supination
  • Fist rotations, both clockwise & counterclockwise

As you approach the direct source of pain, the median nerve, you should feel some immediate relief as pressure is released from the area. Your body is actively breaking down the myofascial tissue, causing pain, discomfort, and overall lack of wrist function. 

Inner Wrist

Tighten the Rolflex handles and slide the foam roller over your inner wrist near your hand. As this is likely the most painful and sensitive area in your forearm, avoiding applying too much pressure is essential. This will aggravate the pain, worsen your condition, and delay your recovery. 

Unlike the other areas of your forearm, you won't perform ART on your inner wrist. Move the foam roller around and locate different places around the most vital point of pain, squeezing the handles as you do so. Do this for 30-60 seconds or until your wrist loosens.

Repeat this entire sequence once or twice daily for at least two weeks. During these two weeks, you should notice significant improvements in your pain and comfort levels. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does foam rolling help carpal tunnel?

Yes, foam rolling helps carpal tunnel by reducing pain, restoring flexibility, and improving the overall health of your wrist & forearm. 

What is the fastest way to get rid of carpal tunnel?

The fastest way to get rid of carpal tunnel is a combination of rest, active muscle & tissue therapy, and gradual strength-training exercises. 

What exercises should you not do with carpal tunnel?

Unfortunately, the list of exercises you should avoid with carpal tunnel is long. Avoid exercises that place undue strain on the wrist and median nerves, such as pushups, bicep and tricep exercises, rock climbing, typing, writing, and sewing.