What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway in the wrist, is part of the structure comprised of ligaments, tendons and bones that runs from the forearm to the hand. This tunnel houses the median nerve, which gives feeling to most of the fingers, as well as the tendons responsible for bending the fingers. When the tendons become irritated, it results in inflammation and even further narrowing of the tunnel. Because it runs through such a small space, the median nerve becomes compressed.
The onset of symptoms in carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is gradual. Initially, these symptoms might come and go. They include:
- Burning and pain along the forearm
- Hand pain, particularly at night
- Hand and wrist weakness
- Pain, numbness and tingling in the thumb and first three fingers
- Sleeplessness due to pain, which worsens at night
- Wrist pain
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
In many cases there is no single cause of CTS, but rather a number of risk factors that result in the condition. The most common contributing factor is repetitive stress which comes from doing the same movements continually on a daily basis, such as working for hours on a computer or an assembly line. This causes long-term stress that results in the inflammation and irritation of the ligaments and/or tendons.
Anything that irritates or compresses the median nerve may also lead to the syndrome. In addition to repetitive movements, other potential causes of irritation or compression of the median include:
- Diabetes or edema (fluid retention) from pregnancy or menopause
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Wrist fracture or trauma
Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Diagnosis of CTS is comprised of a medical history, physical examination and possibly blood tests and a nerve conduction study. A nerve conduction study is a diagnostic test that measures the function of nerve impulses. If the nerve impulse is slower than normal as the nerve passes into the hand, it may be an indication of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Relevant medical history to indicate CTS may include health problems such as arthritis, diabetes or injury to the wrist or arm, as well as habits contributing to overuse injury.
A physical exam includes checking both sensation and strength of the hand, wrist and arm, as well as a comparison of both sides of the shoulders, arms and hands. The doctor may perform several other specific tests of arm and hand function. Tapping the median nerve and flexing the wrists can test for the onset of typical symptoms, indicating the presence of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Massage Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
While it is often overlooked as a therapy, many people who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome have found relief with massage therapy. In fact, a study conducted at the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome were lessened and grip strength improved following massage therapy.
Massage can help lessen the symptoms by breaking up scar tissue and adhesions in the areas in and around the wrist and forearm. This helps to restore movement and provide flexibility of the muscles. During the massage, the movement and stretching of the affected ligaments and tendons help lessen the compression on the median nerve, thus relieving symptoms.
Massage therapists use a variety of techniques in their approach to carpal tunnel syndrome. These include, but are not limited to:
- Cross-fiber friction
- Deep tissue work
- Trigger point
While the affected area is an obvious place to focus, the massage therapist may also extend these techniques to other parts of the body to facilitate improvement. They might massage the entire length of the arms, neck and shoulders (particularly the internal rotation that can contribute to posture problems often typical in those with CTS).
Many people experience the positive relief of symptoms after one session; however, massage for CTS is usually best addressed with multi-session treatment. Those with this condition should not hesitate to deal with treatment early, as some massage experts feel that the longer a person goes untreated, the longer it takes to experience improvement. In general, early onset carpal tunnel syndrome is treatable. Over time, however, permanent nerve damage may develop.
As the symptoms of CTS can be similar to several other disorders, it is important to receive a medical diagnosis from a doctor before attempting to treat it with massage.
Meet the Massage Therapy Experts
At Spinal Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, as part of our multi-disciplinary approach, we are experts in providing customized massage therapy, including for carpal tunnel syndrome. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.