Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects over 75 million people worldwide, but is rarely treated in a timely fashion. It is common for a person to feel the discomfort of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome but to ignore it until it becomes completely incapacitating. Usually, at this point, severe and often invasive measures, such as surgery, are required to take care of the problem. What many people don’t realize is that, if caught early enough, simple, non-invasive treatments such as stretching, posture correction and massage therapy can reverse the effects of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Additionally, surgery is often counter-productive because it causes scarring and swelling that often exacerbates the condition rather than alleviating it. Thus non-invasive manual therapies like massage are preferable in many cases to surgery.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition in which the median nerve is squeezed as it passes through the narrow path (or tunnel) at the wrist. This pressure often causes feelings of numbness, tingling and pain in the fingers and thumb. It often makes it difficult or painful to make a fist, lift objects or make other small movements with the hands and fingers.
What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
There are many ways that people get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, although, usually, the exact cause cannot be identified. The most common way is through repetitive motions that require excessive use of the hands, wrist and/or fingers, such as typing, knitting, kneading dough, playing a musical instrument or using a jackhammer. Wrist injuries can sometimes lead to developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome has also been linked to people with diabetes, certain kinds of arthritis and people who experience hormonal changes (such as pregnancy or menopause). In general, more women than men get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
How can Carpal Tunnel Syndrome be treated?
It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor if you think you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. He or she will be able to perform a few simple tests to diagnose you. Any persistent pain, numbness or discomfort in the wrists should be checked out, since early treatment can make a big difference in how fast and how completely you will be able to recover. Also, the earlier you begin to treat the problem, the less invasive the treatment can be. If caught and treated early with self-care, you may be able to avoid surgery or even the need for anti-inflammatory drugs. Below are some of the ways to care for your body in order to prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Change Activity – The first step you can take is to pay attention to the activities you do that cause the discomfort in the area to flare up. Then you should either stop doing them or, if this is not possible, you should try to change how you do them. This may take some creativity, but it is a vital step towards recovery.
Rest and Stretch Often – Especially if you find yourself needing to do the very activities that aggravate the wrists, it is important to take frequent breaks to rest and stretch. Even just 30 seconds of rest 2-3 times each hour can make a big difference. When stretching the wrists, support the joints and move slowly through the joint’s range of motion, being careful not to go beyond your level of comfort. When you stretch, be sure to also give at least some attention to your fingers, shoulders, neck and hips, as well. Keeping these joints healthy will make it possible for you to keep your wrists healthy.
Stay Hydrated – Dehydration can have detrimental effects on almost every part of the body. Keeping your tissues hydrated by drinking plenty of water can reduce the feelings of pain and discomfort that may be caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Ice It – When joints are inflamed, it is helpful to pull blood away from the area to bring down the swelling by applying ice to the area. The ice will constrict the blood vessels and block nerve impulses in the area, decreasing feelings of pain.
Sit Up Straight – Maintaining good posture can have a dramatically positive affect on your entire body including the strain on your wrists. When you sit up straight, you are putting the least amount of strain on the soft tissues of the body. Keep in mind that it takes mindfulness and practice to notice when your posture needs correction, so it is something that you may have to continue to work at.
Consciously Undo the Unconscious – There are many activities that you may do every day without thinking that may be contributing to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. As with your posture, you must work to notice these habits and then break them. These habits include sleeping with your wrist curled up underneath you, resting wrists on desks or hard surfaces that compresses the tissue and grasping objects too tightly.
Massage Therapy – Relaxing the muscles and tissues is probably the single most effective way to counteract Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The Touch Research Institute in Miami, Florida performed a study that found that the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel are “lessened following massage therapy” citing that functional activity and grip strength were increased, while pain was reduced. In most cases, a combination of self-massage and professional therapeutic massage is recommended.
To practice self-care, stabilize one hand or arm on a surface such as a table or a bed and squeeze or press into the body part with your other hand, forearm and/or elbow, working the muscles and tendons with medium to deep pressure. This should be done on a daily basis to help ease the tension and discomfort caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Along with self-massage, it is important to receive professional therapeutic massage on a regular basis, either in the form of chair massage (most often performed in an office setting or special event) or full body massage (usually performed on a massage table in the privacy of a massage office or client’s home). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome should not be treated as an issue that only comes from constriction and tension in the wrist. The entire body’s health and fitness contribute to Carpal Tunnel symptoms. It is important to treat the tissue connected to the entire pathway of the median nerve, and to correct as many sources of stress to the tissues as possible. Massage therapy is the best way to achieve this goal.
Whether you are just starting to feel the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or have suffered from them for a long time, following the steps above is sure to help you feel better. If problems persist, don’t hesitate to see your physician. Hopefully, though, these suggestions for non-invasive treatments will help you to keep your wrists and body free of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Source: Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Florida. Authors: Tiffany Field, Ph.D.; Miguel Diego; Christy Cullen; Kristin Hartshorn; Alan Gruskin; Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D.; and William Sunshine. Originally published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 2004, Vol. 8, pp. 9-14.