How to Lift Weights if You have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome results from increased pressure on the median nerve.
Image Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines carpal tunnel syndrome as a condition in which excessive pressure on the median nerve leads to pain, tingling, and numbness in the palm and fingers. While carpal tunnel syndrome is not life-threatening, it can interfere with activities of daily living, including resistance training. Consider the use of a supportive brace to ensure optimal results when lifting weights with carpal tunnel syndrome. Appropriate post-exercise care can also be useful to avoiding exacerbating the condition.


Step 1

Seek medical assistance, says the American College of Sports Medicine. While most individuals who have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome will be cleared to lift weights, those with extreme cases of the condition may be cautioned to avoid all activities that put excessive pressure on the wrist, including resistance training. Failure to follow these recommendations can result in permanent damage to the median nerve, which could require invasive surgery. Be honest with your health care provider regarding the specifics of your exercise routine to get the best care for your specific case of carpal tunnel syndrome.

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Step 2

Wear proper supportive devices to prevent wrist flexion. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, failing to maintain wrist rigidity during weight lifting can lead to an increase in pressure on the median nerve -- which, in turn, can exacerbate carpal tunnel symptoms. Individuals who have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome may be able to obtain a supportive brace from their health care provider. Be sure the brace fits properly and is snug around your wrist for the greatest support when engaging in a resistance training program.


Step 3

Practice moderation during exercise. In most cases, the more difficult the resistance training exercise, the more pressure placed on the median nerve -- not only because of the excess weight, but also due to increases in blood flow that occur during resistance training. Using the "talk test" can be an effective way to keep your exercise in a moderate zone, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you can talk but not sing while lifting weights, you are likely keeping your resistance training workout in a moderate zone.


Step 4

Ice your wrists after resistance training workouts. According to ACSM, icing your wrists after weight training will reduce the inflammation that can occur as a result of the activity -- and can decrease pressure on the median nerve. Keep an ice pack on the wrist that has been afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome for at least 20 minutes to ensure optimal results in the reduction of inflammation. Wrap a dry towel or other piece of clothing around the ice pack to avoid skin burns that can occur as a result of contact with the frozen product.

Things You'll Need

  • Carpal tunnel wrist brace

  • Ice pack

  • Towel/clothing

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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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