Baoding balls are small balls that are thought to have been used, originally, in Baoding, China. They are also sometimes known as Qi Gong balls, or Chinese hand exercise balls. They were once made of solid iron, but today are more commonly made of hollow, chrome-plated steel. Some are made of solid steel, stone, or even solid jade. Some balls have chimes inside them and can also be used as a meditation aid.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when tendons in the wrist become inflamed, often as the result of repetitive stress from typing, playing certain instruments, or even carrying around a baby. The inflammation in the tendons causes tissues to swell, compressing nerves that run through the wrist to the fingers. The result can be irritation, numbness, tingling, pain, or even loss of some motor function in the hands. Untreated carpal tunnel can lead to permanent nerve damage.
In many cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated and reversed. Any treatment that improves circulation, relieves inflammation, and helps to strengthen the muscles of the fingers, hands, wrists and forearms is likely to be of some help. Getting enough rest is important as well.
Using Baoding Balls to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Begin by finding the right size balls for your hands. You should start with a size that you can handle easily, and then work up to larger sizes. The smallest are 35 mm, which are appropriate for a child or a short adult. The largest are 55 mm, and are better for experienced users or adults who are more than 6’2” tall.
- Hold the balls with care, being sure that if you accidentally drop one, it will not fall onto your feet or toes, or onto a fragile object such as a glass table.
- Start with two balls, rotating them clockwise and counterclockwise in your palm. Push the balls with your fingers to get them to move. With practice, however, you may discover that you can also rotate the balls by creating space in your palm for the balls to roll into. If you are having trouble visualizing how to do this, you may want to look for video of the Baoding balls on the Internet, at a site such as YouTube.
- Relax the upper back and shoulders as much as possible while working with the balls, and always give both hands an equal workout.
- After two or three hours of practice, try rotating the balls more smoothly. For more of a workout for the fingers, try to rotate the balls without allowing them to touch each other.
- Alternatively, turn your palm down and rotate the balls, which will also build finger strength and dexterity. In time, you can work your way up to using bigger balls or to using three balls at once.
Why It Works
According to traditional Chinese medical theory (TCM), using Baoding balls stimulates acupuncture points along the meridians in the fingers. Meridians are lines in the body along which chi, or energy, flows. Stimulating acupuncture points can help blood, and energy, flow more freely through the body. It helps to unblock areas in which the chi may be stuck or stagnant, helping it to flow more freely.
From a Western medical point of view, training with Baoding balls can be helpful as a form of physical therapy, because it retrains the muscles in the hands, wrists, and forearms.
Stop to rest if you need to -- after about 15 minutes of practice with the balls, you might find that your forearm, shoulder, and hand are getting tired and sore. Don’t overdo it. If you find it very painful to work with the balls, only use them for a minute or two at a time to begin with. Even a minute or two of practice will slowly help the fingers to become more flexible.
Anyone trying to recover from carpal tunnel syndrome, or other repetitive stress injuries, should also take a careful look at the circumstances that caused the repetitive stress. If carpal tunnel developed as the result of hours typing on a computer keyboard, for example, it would be worth examining the computer workstation and finding ways to make it more ergonomic, putting less stress on the wrists, hands, and fingers. When repetitive stress causes an injury, it is also typically helpful to build in rest periods, so that the body is not repeating the same movement in the same way for hours at a time without respite. You may also wish to learn some stretching exercises for the wrists, or consider wearing wrist splints for certain kinds of activities, to avoid overworking the hands and wrists.