Light at the end of carpal tunnel
Margot Mostyn, RMT
A common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is the repetitive use of the hand and wrist on the job. Massage therapy can provide effective pain relief.
There’s a tingling in your fingers. A shooting pain jolts you to attention at your workstation. You may be experiencing symptoms of a common workplace disorder called carpal tunnel syndrome–one of the most widespread repetitive-use injuries.
The carpal tunnel is the narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand that houses the median nerve and tendons. CTS is experienced when the median nerve running from the forearm into the hand becomes compressed at the wrist. This often occurs when thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling causes narrowing of the tunnel. This pressure results in pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist that radiates up the arm.
Who’s at Risk for CTS?
Women tend to be more at risk than men to develop CTS, perhaps because the carpal tunnel itself may be smaller in women. CTS is also linked to conditions such as diabetes, Lyme disease, rubella, pregnancy, and menopause.
The industries or jobs most often linked to CTS are primarily assembly line occupations such as manufacturing, sewing, finishing, cleaning, and meat, poultry, or fish packing. According to the Mayo Clinic, CTS is three times more common among assemblers than among data-entry personnel. A study reported in the journal Neurology in 2001 showed that heavy computer use (up to seven hours per day), despite popular belief to the contrary, did not increase a person’s risk of developing CTS.
Massage Therapy for CTS
In extreme cases, surgery is a treatment option for CTS. But for more moderate cases, massage therapy is very effective. In order to investigate this relationship, the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine conducted a study on CTS sufferers, half of whom were treated with massage therapy while the other half were not.
The Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in 2004 reported that the subjects in the massage group experienced a significant decrease in pain and other symptoms associated with CTS. The study concluded that “carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms are lessened following massage therapy.”
To treat CTS, qualified therapists use Swedish massage techniques to ease the tight, irritated muscles and tendons in the affected arm, wrist, and hand. They may also do passive stretches to the affected muscles. This helps alleviate the pressure on the median nerve, thereby reducing and possibly eliminating the symptoms. As well, therapists may incorporate acupressure to the back, neck, and shoulders to treat any trigger points that may be referring pain down into the affected areas.
Can CTS be Prevented?
Incorporating massage therapy into your day-to-day life can help prevent work-related CTS. Through regular massage therapy treatments and self-massage at home, you can keep in tune with subtle changes that may indicate problems down the road.
Your massage therapist can also educate you about proper workplace posture and ergonomics, as well as an exercise regimen (stretching and strengthening) that can help protect your body from the wear and tear of your occupation.
Possible Causes of CTS