Can Massage Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
While stress is most notable as an emotional response to overwhelm, the body can become physically stressed from habitual movements repeated over extended periods of time. Stress in this context can cause:
- swelling, distortion and breakdown in the soft tissue that cushions the bones and tendons;
- tightness in muscles that leads to constricted circulation and the loss of the muscles’ ability to return to a natural resting state.
The resulting disorder called Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) can impair body movement and cause inflammation, weakness, pain, numbness or irritation in the affected area.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a well-known RSI that affects the hands, wrists and forearms. Office workers, construction workers, truck drivers, hair stylists as well as massage therapists and many others whose occupation demands numerous hours of repetitive hand motions are particularly susceptible to this problem.
WHAT IS CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME?
This ailment arises out of issues in the carpal tunnel, which is a narrow thumb-width passage that runs from the forearm to the palm of the hand and threads through the wrist bones. This area, surrounded by cartilage, houses nine tendons connected to hand movements as well as one Meridian Nerve that sends and receives impulses from the brain. Because of the constricted space within the carpal tunnel, any swelling due to injury of the soft tissue, tendons or cartilage in the area can pinch the Meridian Nerve and cause sensations such as pins and needles, numbness in the thumb or fingers, and pain that can extend up the forearm or move into the hand.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is also signalled by the inability to grip or grasp objects due to weakness and sometimes results in intense wrist pain and/or hand discomfort even with minimal movement. The pain may also worsen at night, which can cause sleep disruption. Sometimes when the symptoms present, shaking the hand vigorously can provide momentary relief but long term, the dysfunction does not resolve.
Potential risk factors for CTS include the obvious culprits such as repetitive tasks, the need to continually apply force and being subjected to ongoing vibration (working with tools like jackhammers for example). Other plausible triggers for CTS include – being overweight, hypothyroidism, arthritis, diabetes and trauma. Interestingly, genetics also plays a role due to an inherited smaller carpal tunnel.
CTS has also been linked to poor posture which can make the shoulders roll forward thus causing neck and shoulder muscles to shorten. This dynamic compresses neck nerves, which can cause related issues in fingers, hands and wrists.
Treatments for CTS can include:
- Splinting the wrist
- Medications including steroids or NSAIDS
- Taking frequent breaks from work that overworks the wrist
- Applying cold compresses to help reduce any inflammation in the area
How Massage Can Help
Often, the originating issue of CTS is not the wrist or hand area itself but starts with tight muscles of the neck, shoulder or pectoral areas and injured nerve pathways along the arm. Such techniques as myofascial release, deep tissue work and stretching of these muscles as well as working along the arm can help calm nerve inflammation and smooth out any knots or tightness that contribute to the disorder.
Heat and compression to help relax rigid muscles is often used effectively before release and stretching techniques are applied. The use of hot stone massage has been found to relax muscles enough that deeper tissue work can be completed more effectively. This technique also results in improved blood circulation, better sleep and reduced stress.
Depending on the severity and complexity of the initiating CTS problem, long-term relief may require repeat sessions. The longer the situation has been present, usually, the longer it takes for resolution.
The most pronounced result of massage for CTS is a decrease in pain but studies have shown that regular massage can also improve the strength of the grip that is sometimes affected by the disorder.
In addition to providing relief to the muscles and tissues associated with the functional operation of wrists and hands, carpal tunnel massage also provides a general overall sense of well-being and relaxation that can provide improved life enjoyment.