If you’ve ever experienced ongoing pain, numbness or tingling in your wrists or hands, you might have a condition known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage about the width of the thumb that runs from the forearm to the palm of the hand via the wrist that houses nine tendons and one median nerve. When the tunnel becomes inflamed, the result is chronic pain.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or CTS, is caused by the compression of the median nerve encased inside the carpal tunnel, which then leads to inflammation (swelling) in and around the tunnel, pain and numbness.
CTS can be caused by a variety of situations, with the most common being repetitive use of the hands and wrist, such as typing for long periods of time or other tasks that result from overuse of the tendons, ligaments and muscles in the forearm, wrist and hands. Other physical conditions that can cause the median nerve to get pinched in the tunnel might be swelling in the area caused by a wrist fracture or being overweight; autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis; thyroid problems; menopause or pregnancy; and chronic diseases such as diabetes.
CTS can also be caused when the median nerve is entrapped or pinched in another location above or below the wrist area.
Most often, those who suffer from CTS experience symptoms on the thumb side of the palm, including a pins-and-needles feeling or numbness that extends to the thumb and first two fingers. Generally, CTS only affects the dominant hand, which makes movement especially awkward. People sometimes will flap their hands in an attempt to find relief, but if the symptoms worsen, that technique becomes less effective.
What can help relieve the pain?
Taking more frequent breaks when using your wrist or applying cold compresses to help reduce swelling in the area can really help relieve the pain. CTS sufferers who have only mild to moderate pain and symptoms for less than a year can often find relief through conservative treatments such as splinting or wrist braces and inflammation-reducing medications such as ibuprofen or steroid injections. For more severe, long-term CTS suffers, surgery may be the final option.
Massage therapy brings long-term relief and healing
Massage can significantly improve, heal and prevent CTS by increasing blood flow and circulation in the area and throughout the body, which in turn helps reduce inflammation in and around the carpal tunnel, decreases fluid retention and soothes the irritated or painful muscles and tendons in the carpal tunnel. But the benefits of massage therapy for CTS actually go much deeper.
Carpal tunnel massage focuses on both the flexor (curl in) and extensor (reach out) muscles in the arm, wrist and hand. A massage therapist uses long strokes going up the flexor muscles on the forearm to loosen the connective tissue (fascia), muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the tunnel. This provides instant and ongoing relief to the compressed nerve that is radiating the pain.
The therapist also stretches the forearm flexors by extending the hand, wrist, fingers and elbow, while massaging the entire arm with long, gliding strokes at the same time.
A study by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine showed that regular massage therapy can improve grip strength. Strengthening the muscles can help reduce muscle imbalances that are caused by repetitive strain or overuse, which, of course, leads to CTS. Strength-building exercises of the extensor muscles of the fingers and elbow are recommended daily and as part of a massage session.
Hot stone therapy
In addition, the researchers discovered that people with pain from CTS, arthritis, fibromyalgia and other hand problems experience less pain and even sleep better as a result of hot stone therapy as part of a massage session. Why? Because muscles relax more under the direct heat of stones, which allows the therapist to reach deeper layers of muscle.
Hot stones also expand blood vessels, encouraging blood flow not only in the hands but throughout the entire body. The relief of chronic pain is enhanced by reduced stress and deep relaxation, which provides for better health overall. Hot stone therapy can be added into a standard massage session at Massage Envy. Both the 60- and 90-minute sessions offer immediate benefits for CTS, as well as the overall health benefits associated with massage. QCBN
By Mark Love
Mark Love is the Franchisee of Massage Envy Spa – Prescott, located at 120 E. Sheldon St., by the Sprouts grocery store. For more information on the benefits of massage and to schedule an appointment with a massage therapist, visit MassageEnvy.com, call 928-778-ENVY (3689) and follow on Facebook at Facebook.com/MassageEnvyPrescott. Schedule an appointment online – your time, your convenience, your massage.