Carpal tunnel syndrome is a pathology that involves the impingement of the median nerve at the carpal tunnel of the wrist. This is a type of injury believed to be caused by repetitive stress motions. It is a pathology that aspiring massage therapists are taught to take precautions to prevent in themselves. It can range from mild discomfort to extreme pain. Here, we will examine causes and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, and how massage therapy can help the pathology.
WHAT IS CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME?
At the base of your palm, a group of small bones (called the carpal bones) make up your wrist, forming a “U” shape. Many tendons and nerves run through this tunnel, held in place by the transverse carpal ligament that runs across the inside of the wrist.
Image by Encyclopedia Britannica
It is here that the median nerve is restricted, causing shooting pain, numbness, or tingling in the palm, thumb, index finger, and half of the middle finger.
Symptoms usually begin as a “sleeping hand” feeling in the night. As the pathology progresses, patients report feeling as though their fingers are swollen, even when no swelling is apparent. The tingling or burning feeling manifests during the day and it can become difficult or impossible to close the hand or form a fist.
WHAT CAUSES CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME?
There are a few different factors that may cause carpal tunnel syndrome. It is believed to be a repetitive stress injury, although research on this belief is lacking. The most likely cause is a naturally slender carpal tunnel, or the result of an injury in the area causing swelling of the surrounding tissues.
Carpal tunnel syndrome itself can be a complication of other pathologies as well, including rheumatoid arthritis, a cyst or tumor in the canal, or hypothyroidism, among others.
HOW IS CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME TREATED?
Early detection of carpal tunnel syndrome can save the median nerve from permanent damage. If it is a complication of another pathology, then treatment should begin with the causing pathology.
Treatment consists of immobilizing the wrist and keeping it from stressful activities. Treatment may also consist of exercises, drug treatments, or surgery.
CAN MASSAGE THERAPY HELP?
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As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, massage has had a positive effect on every pathology in which its effects have been studied.
According to research done by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami in Florida, participants who received massage once a week for four weeks and were also given an at-home routine experienced lower levels of pain, anxiety, and depression. Nerve conduction velocity test showed improved median peak latency, and they also had improved grip strength.
Massage will focus on opening up the anterior wrist and palm. It may include stretches, myofascial release, and range of motion exercises. Several sessions will be needed to achieve lasting results.
If you’re not sure if massage therapy can help you, just ask! Please remember that massage therapy should not be considered an alternative form of medicine. It is only complementary. Please always follow the advice of your primary care physician.
“Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” by Mayo Clinic
“Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet” by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Field, T., Diego, M., Cullen, C., Hartshorn, K., Gruskin, A., Hernandez-Reif, M., & Sunshine, W. (2004). Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms are lessened following massage therapy. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 8, 9-14.