If you have carpal tunnel syndrome you’ll need to follow some guidelines if you want to do weightlifting that involves pulling like deadlifts, rows, pull-downs and pull-ups.
Unfortunately, lifting weights in a hardcore way has not been proven to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but this data is more of a function of lack of research rather than actual results of studies.
Muscle-building enthusiasts would like to believe that all those deadlifts, chin-ups, pull-ups, bent-over dumbbell rows, barbell rows, lat pull-downs, etc., have a preventive effect on carpal tunnel syndrome.
What if you’ve already been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and have either been strength training for some time or are thinking of starting a strength training program (for whatever reasons)?
Carpal Tunnel Guidelines for Strength Training and Bodybuilding
Movements involving pulling will stress the wrist and median nerve in a way that pressing movements will not.
“If someone has carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to consider the severity of the condition and follow the advice of your treating physician,” says John-Paul H. Rue, MD, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon with Orthopedics and Joint Replacement at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.
“If symptoms are mild, it may be acceptable to continue to lift weights, but it would be important to ensure proper wrist position to avoid additional injury to the median nerve in the carpal tunnel.
“Weightlifting exercises that rely on forceful gripping may be more difficult and may exacerbate your carpal tunnel symptoms.”
So if the maximal deadlifts are aggravating your condition, you’ll want to lighten the load as long as you’re still trying to successfully treat the condition with conservative means.
There’s always surgery if conservative treatment fails, but in the meantime, Dr. Rue explains:
“A supportive wrist brace may be beneficial to minimizing additional strain on the wrist, and will help keep the wrist in proper position to avoid additional stress and swelling at the carpal tunnel.”
Depending on your strength training goals and also how important it is to you to progress in the pulling exercises like the deadlift, you may actually want to consider surgery for your carpal tunnel syndrome if after a set period of time, conservative measures have failed.
Dr. Rue specializes in prevention and treatment of sports and exercise injuries. His primary focuses are knee, shoulder and elbow injuries including ACL and cartilage injuries, rotator cuff injuries and overuse tendonitis.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.