Massage Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
Studies have shown that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) symptoms are lessened following massage therapy. In general, massage is believed to support healing, boost energy, reduce recovery time after an injury, ease pain, and enhance relaxation, mood, and well-being. When used for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, massage may lead to a significant reduction in pain and symptoms, as well as improved grip strength. Massage therapy can help relieve pain from muscles in the arm or shoulder that may mimic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
How Can Massage Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)?
Massage therapy eases the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and increases grip strength, according to a recent study. The massage routine consisted of stroking with moderate pressure from the fingertips to the elbow. Improvements lasted for at least four weeks after treatment.
A simple, self-performed “wrist-wringing” technique may also help to ease congestion in the wrist and encourage fluid movement in the joints. To use the technique, a person clasps one wrist with the other hand and massages it in a circular movement. Avoid movements that are painful and exercise the hands and arms gently to stretch them.
Professional massage therapy techniques, such as Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT) and Myofascial Release (MFR), can ease pressure on the nerve from inflamed tendons within the carpal tunnel and excessive fluid in the wrist area.
Studies have shown that both general massage and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-targeted massage treatment programs reduced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Gains in grip strength, however, were only noted with the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-targeted massage.
Special Considerations When Using Massage for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
There are several important factors to note when considering massage for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Direct manipulation of the damaged nerve is highly detrimental and can easily cause other problems. Direct pressure on the carpal tunnel region should be applied rarely and always with great caution.
In addition to specific techniques that focus on the wrist flexors or the carpal-tunnel region, it is important to address all the regions of the upper extremity and the neck when treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The median nerve may be compressed in a number of other locations, which could further irritate the nerve at the carpal tunnel.
In general, massage is considered relatively safe. Pain or other rare negative side effects are usually only caused by an extremely vigorous massage techniques.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, also called Repetitive Strain Injury or Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI), is a condition caused by an obstructed nerve in the wrist, resulting in pain and numbness in the index and middle fingers and weakness of the thumb. The carpal tunnel receives its name from the eight bones in the wrist, called carpals. These bones form a tunnel through which the median nerve extends toward the hand. Tasks requiring highly repetitive and forceful movements of the wrist can cause swelling around the tendons, resulting in a pinched nerve and producing symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) Include:
- Nighttime painful tingling in one or both hands, often disturbing sleep
- Daytime tingling in the hands, followed by a decreased ability to squeeze things
- Pain shooting from the hand up the arm as far as the shoulder
- A feeling of uselessness in the fingers
- A sense that fingers are swollen, even though little or no swelling is outwardly apparent
- Tingling and burning in the thumb and first three fingers
- Inability to perform simple manual tasks, such as picking up small objects
- Loss of strength in the thenar muscle at the base of the thumb near the palm
Who is at Risk for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)?
People at risk for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome include those who work at the computer all day, cashiers, carpenters, gardeners, and mechanics. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is associated with health conditions such as Lyme disease, pregnancy and menopause. People with back, neck or shoulder problems, such as a slipped disc, broken collar bone or neck injury, are more likely to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Conditions including thyroid problems, diabetes, obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Although Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can develop at any age, it most commonly occurs in people between the ages of 40 and 60. Women are more likely than men to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Use of caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners are also contributing risk factors.
More than half of all pregnant women develop symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Fortunately, the condition generally improves after childbirth.
Should Anyone Avoid Massage?
People with rheumatoid arthritis or skin lesions, such as eczema, should not receive massage therapy during flare-ups. Those with cancer should check with their doctors before considering massage because a treatment can further damage tissue already subjected to chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Experts also advise that people with osteoporosis, high fever, few blood platelets or white blood cells, or mental impairment, or those recovering from surgery, should avoid massage.
Women should be cautious when receiving full body massages during pregnancy. Pregnant women should consult a therapist specifically trained to perform massages on pregnant women.
Tell your massage therapist about any medications you are taking, as massage may influence the absorption or activity of both oral and topical medications.
Expert Village offers a video series demonstrating Massage Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
DailyStrength online support group for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Massage Magazine article on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Trigger Point Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Self-applied Massage of the Forearms. Journal of the American Chiropractic Association, July 2002.
altMD Massage Articles
altMD Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Articles
Comparison of a Targeted and General Massage Protocol on Strength, Function, and Symptoms Associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Pilot Study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008 Apr;14(3):259-67.