Massage therapy is an effect treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by a pinched median nerve in the wrist. It’s associated with pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in the hand and wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow canal in the wrist. The bottom and sides of the tunnel are formed by small bones called carpal bones. The top of the tunnel is a strong band of transverse carpal ligament, which holds the all components together.
Inside the tunnel are the median nerve and tendons. Tendons are rope-like structures that connect bones in the hand to muscles in the forearm. They also allow the thumb and fingers to bend. The median nerve runs down the arm and forearm and passes through the carpal tunnel into the palm of the hand. It provides sensation to the fingers (except the little finger). It also adds strength to some small muscles at the base of the thumb and index finger.
When the ligament thickens or tendons swell, the space in the tunnel decreases and the median nerve becomes compressed, exerting excessive pressure on the median nerve.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:
- Tingling, burning, or itching in the palm and fingers, especially the thumb, middle, and index fingers
- Occasional shock-like sensation that moves up into the fingers
- Pain and tingling traveling up the forearm toward the shoulder
- A swollen feeling in the fingers
- Decreased feeling in the fingertips
- Occasional hand weakness and loss of coordination
- Weakness and clumsiness in the hand, which may make it difficult to use the hand for small tasks such as writing, or buttoning a shirt
- Dropping objects due to numbness, weakness, or loss of proprioception
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome begin suddenly or gradually- without a specific injury. In fact, many people find that symptoms come and go at first, and usually affected by excessive use of the hand. As the condition worsens and the pressure on the nerve becomes greater, symptoms may become more frequent or may persist for longer periods of time.
It’s common for people to experience nighttime symptoms because many sleep with their wrists bent. In the morning, a person may wake up with tingling or numbness in their hands. They may not notice the problem at all during the day, but symptoms often flare up when holding something with the wrist bent, such as when reading a book, using a phone, or driving. Many patients find that moving or shaking the hands can relieve the symptoms in the early stages of the condition.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often caused by a combination of factors that irritate or squeeze the median nerve. Possible contributing factors include:
- Activities that involve highly repetitive wrist or finger motions, like typing, farming, or knitting. Repetitive motions may aggravate the tendons in the wrist, causing swelling that exerts pressure on the nerve. This usually happens when the hands are lower than the wrists
- Trauma or injury to the wrist, such as sprain or fracture. This may break one or more of the carpal bones, cause swelling, or deform the small bones in the wrist
- Arthritis-related diseases, especially if there is swelling of the wrist joint, tendons, and tissues in the carpal tunnel
- Work that involves heavy use of the wrist
- Mechanical problems in the wrist joint
- Hormonal changes and fluid retention caused by pregnancy or menopause
- Repeated use of vibrating hand tools or instruments that require forceful gripping and put pressure at the base of the palm
- Health conditions such as diabetes, amyloidosis, kidney failure, lymphedema, menopause, an underactive thyroid gland, or an overactive pituitary gland
Massage Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Massage therapy is a non-invasive and effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. It helps relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome by reducing swelling in the muscles caused by damage or overextension in the work environment. It also works by breaking down scar tissue, and softening and lengthening muscles and fascia of the shoulder, neck, elbow, wrist, hand, forearm, and upper arm.
During a massage session, the therapist will use deep tissue work to stimulate trigger points, release adhesions, and reduce the tension in the soft tissues of the arm, shoulder, hand, and wrist. This involves bringing the arm and shoulder out of internal rotation or incorporating myofascial cupping to reduce muscle tension.
By massaging and stretching tendons in the arm and wrist, a massage therapist can help restore full flexibility of the arm and reduce the pressure the tendons are putting on the median nerve. This in turn reduces the inflammation, pain, and numbness associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
The number of massage sessions it takes for a patient with carpal tunnel syndrome to find relief will vary depending on how severe the problem is. Most clients experience some level of relief after the first session but for others, it may take three to five sessions or more to get long-term results.
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In our fast-paced, technology-addicted world, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a common complaint. The stiff muscles and shooting pain sufferers experience can have a significantly negative impact on daily life. As a professional therapist or bodyworker, it’s likely you will work with a client who has Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Understanding this increasingly common condition will allow you to help your clients achieve maximum relief.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs when pressure is exerted on the median nerve that runs through the arm and wrist. This nerve controls motion and feeling in all digits except the little finger. When the nerve reaches the wrist, it runs through a narrow structure of bone and ligament called the carpal tunnel. Constant pressure on the nerve causes it to press against the bony parts of the structure. If left untreated, the nerve will sustain damage that can cause a variety of symptoms.
- Loss of muscle strength
- Pain in fingers, hand, or forearm
- Many sufferers first notice their symptoms at night.
Getting a Diagnosis
As always, patients should seek an official diagnosis from their primary medical physician. The doctor will start with a medical history. People with arthritis, hypothyroidism, and diabetes are at higher risk of developing the condition. The doctor will ask about recent injuries or accidents affecting the head, shoulders, arms, or hands. They will also examine your daily routine. Those with jobs that require small, repetitive movements of the hands and wrists have a greater chance of their symptoms being caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
The doctor then performs a physical examination. They will check muscle strength, sensation (the ability to feel), and the general appearance of the head, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands. Some specialists may order blood or nerve tests to verify results.
Traditional Treatment Methods
Depending on the severity of symptoms, conventional treatment options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome vary. Milder symptoms can often be treated effectively at home.
- Stop any activities that may be causing symptoms. If that is not possible, try to rest your wrists and hands often.
- Place an ice pack on wrists for 10-15 minutes at a time up to 2 times per hour to reduce discomfort.
- N-SAIDs, like Ibuprofen or Naproxen Sodium, reduce painful swelling.
- Wearing a wrist splint while sleeping can lessen pressure on the median nerve.
If symptoms are allowed to progress, more severe interventions may be necessary. Powerful anti-inflammatory medications, called corticosteroids, can be prescribed in pill form or injected directly into the wrist. While these medications can significantly reduce pain associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, they do not provide permanent relief. Surgery is an option for the most advanced cases.
Other Self-Treatment Options
There are some simple steps everyone can take to decrease the intensity of symptoms and frequency of attacks caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
- Regular Stretching
- Get treated for contributing conditions.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking.
- Exercise regularly.
In addition to lifestyle changes, sufferers should take measures to protect their wrists and hands.
- Keep wrists elevated when using a keyboard.
- Keep shoulders relaxed and at the sides while typing or working.
- Use the whole hand to grip items rather than just fingers.
- Switch hands during repetitive motions.
Certain massage techniques have been proven to relax tight muscles and fascia in the arm and shoulder and reduce pressure on the median nerve. For clients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, a muscle specific massage will help address holding patterns associated with repetitive use while also increasing blood flow to the affected region. Leaving your client feeling loose, refreshed, and hopefully pain-free.
Contact us today to learn more about how massage therapy can be an effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.