Foam Rolling for Carpal Tunnel & Wrist Pain
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.
It’s also likely that these did little to improve your condition. If that sounds like you, this foam rolling technique is for you. Physical therapist Nic Bartolotta, MPT, HHP, is going to show you exactly how to treat your carpal tunnel so you can regain your 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 carpal tunnel of the wrist becomes compressed.
It’s generally caused by repetitive wrist motions like typing, using a mouse, writing, and sewing. But it can also be caused by sports & other activities with repetitive, grasping hand movements like 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, 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, it usually causes numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain in the hand & wrist. CTS is often caused by repetitive motions, such as typing or using a mouse, but can also be caused by other factors such as pregnancy, diabetes, or certain medical conditions. Treatment options can include rest and splints, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery.
Treatment: Can carpal tunnel be treated?
There are treatment options 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. And 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
1. Outer Forearm
As with any pain or injury, treatment begins on the opposite side of the pain. In the case of carpal tunnel, we’re going to 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 just 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 than others. These are called trigger points. To release the pressure at these points, you’re going to use the Rolflex to perform active release therapy (ART).
To do so, 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 that is causing you pain & discomfort. Repeat this process for each trigger point on the upper part of your forearm.
2. Outer Wrist
Tighten up the Rolflex so that it fits snugly around your wrist, but not so tight that it aggravates your 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 active release therapy to release the tension in your lower wrist.
3. Inner Forearm
Rotate the Rolflex so that the foam roller is positioned 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 that’s pressing on the median nerve.
After you’ve foam rolled the entire top half of your inner forearm, revisit any trigger points that you noticed. 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 that’s causing pain, discomfort, and overall lack of wrist function.
4. Inner Wrist
Tighten up the Rolflex handles and slide the foam roller over your inner wrist, near your hand. As this is likely the most painful & sensitive area in your forearm, it’s important to avoid applying too much pressure. This will aggravate the pain, worsening your condition and delaying your recovery.
Unlike the other areas of your forearm, you won’t be performing ART on your inner wrist. Move the foam roller around and locate different areas around the strongest point of pain, squeezing the handles as you do so. Do this for at least 30-60 seconds or until your wrist begins to loosen up.
Repeat this entire sequence one to two times per day for at least 2 weeks. Over the course of the initial two weeks, you should begin to 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 that you should not do with carpal tunnel is quite long. Avoid any exercises that place undue strain on the wrist and median nerve such as pushups, bicep & triceps exercises, rock climbing, typing, writing, and sewing.