If you are experiencing numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in your hands or forearms, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. You'll want to call your doctor to get a firm diagnosis. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive strain injury (RSI), where the median nerve that runs through your carpal tunnel—a rigid passage of ligament and bones in your wrist—becomes swollen and compressed by surrounding tissues.
Repetitive activity, like typing on a keyboard for long periods without stretching, can cause this problem. Rest, splints, cortisone injections, and every surgery can fix the problem. However, if you want to avoid surgery, and other conservative methods don't work, you may want to try massage therapy.
How Can Massage Help?
When muscles are overly tense, they can place more pressure on nerves and cause a number of conditions. For instance, a tight piriformis muscle could cause or contribute to sciatica, a disorder where the sciatic nerve in the lower spine is irritated. The muscles in your wrists and arms can become tense from repetitive activity and place pressure on the median nerve. However, massage therapy aims to reduce tension and relax muscles. Massage therapy releases endorphins—the body's natural pain-reducing chemicals. Massage therapy also improves circulation, which can reduce stiffness and muscle inelasticity that could be causing nerve compression.
What Techniques are Used?
Your massage therapist can use a wide variety of massage techniques to treat the area. One technique that works well for carpal tunnel is muscle stripping. Muscle stripping is a type of deep tissue technique where the therapist applies deep pressure strokes away from your arm muscles' insertion points. There are two ends of a muscle: the origin and the insertion point. The muscle origin is the end of the muscle that remains immobile during an action, while the attachment, or insertion point, is the area of the muscle that moves bones during an action. Muscle stripping is beneficial for carpal tunnel since it elongates tense muscles and increases circulation and flexibility in the area.
If you are in too much pain for a deep tissue massage, your therapist may do a gentler technique, like transverse friction massage. The soft tissues that may be irritating your nerves may all run in a similar direction; during a transverse friction massage (or cross-fiber massage), your therapist will massage the fascia from a right angle. Massaging from a different direction than the fascia's natural path can decrease scar tissue and adhesions.
What Does the Research Say About Massage and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
One study found that massage and trigger-pint therapy were viable treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome. Trigger points are hyperirritable, taut bands of tissue that can cause local pain and referred pain. By addressing trigger points, massage therapists were able to reduce neuropathy in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Another study found that after one session of massage therapy, patients were able to improve grip endurance in the forearm and hand. Massage could be beneficial for people whose carpal tunnel is caused by sports or other activities that require lengthy practice.
Lastly, one study found that myofascial release—a type of massage therapy—along with at-home stretches, helped open up the carpal tunnel and reduce pain and numbness.
Reach out to a local massage clinic, like Synapse Massage and Bodywork, for more information.