Carpal tunnel syndrome is an overuse issue that can be experienced by anyone who frequently uses their wrists. This condition occurs when the median nerve, which runs from your wrist to your fingers, gets pressed and irritated due to continuous stress from activities like typing, playing a musical instrument, or even something as simple as gripping too hard.
To manage these symptoms—which may include numbness, tingling, and pain in the wrist—therapists may recommend massage therapy.
- But what are the benefits of massage for carpal tunnel syndrome?
- Is it safe?
- Are there any risks involved?
When you think of carpal tunnel syndrome, massage probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. After all, this condition is often characterized by nerve pain and discomfort. Yet, many carpal tunnel sufferers have found relief in the form of massage therapy. So can massage really help with carpal tunnel syndrome? Keep reading to learn more about this type of therapy and its potential effects on the carpal tunnel.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that can occur in anyone who performs repetitive hand movements or has poor posture and gripping strength. It can also affect people who have diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis and pregnant women.
This condition happens when your median nerve, which runs from your wrist to your fingers, gets pressed and irritated due to continuous stress from activities like typing, playing a musical instrument, or even something as simple as gripping too hard. The narrowed space inside your wrist prevents adequate blood flow to the area, causing tingling, numbness, and pain in the fingers, thumb, and wrist.
Carpal tunnel is one of the most common repetitive stress injuries, especially in individuals who perform hand-intensive work or those who use their hands in a very demanding environment.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of swelling and increased pressure within the soft tissue of the median nerve.
This swelling restricts the ability of the nerve to conduct impulses to and from the fingers. The swelling can be caused by pregnancy, obesity, overuse, or any other condition that increases the pressure within the carpal tunnel.
Why Does Carpal Tunnel Happen?
The carpal tunnel is a small space that is formed by bones and soft tissue in the wrist. The median nerve and the tendons that bend the fingers travel through the carpal tunnel and their large blood supply run through it. The carpal tunnel is narrow, so it is easily compressed, especially in individuals who perform hand-intensive work or those who use their hands in a very demanding environment.
Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the median nerve, which runs from your wrist to your fingers, gets pressed and irritated due to continuous stress from activities like typing, playing a musical instrument, or even something as simple as gripping too hard.
It’s a painful condition that can be managed, but it’s also completely preventable if you take steps to reduce the risk of experiencing it in the first place.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of swelling and increased pressure within the soft tissue of the median nerve. This swelling restricts the ability of the nerve to conduct impulses to and from the fingers. The swelling can be caused by pregnancy, obesity, overuse, or any other condition that increases the pressure within the carpal tunnel.
Does Massage Therapy Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
While there is no proof that massage alone can cure carpal tunnel syndrome, it can still be helpful. Massage (and other hands-on therapies) are thought to help reduce pain and inflammation in the wrist, increase blood flow, and help you relax and reduce stress—all of which may aid carpal tunnel in the long term.
Massage has been used to manage pain for thousands of years. It’s one of the most widely available, cost-effective, and non-invasive treatments for health conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome. It can reduce stress, improve sleep, and help you feel more relaxed and calm.
Whether massage therapy helps carpal tunnel syndrome is still up for debate. Some studies show that massage could help ease symptoms, while others show it’s not as effective.
There’s no doubt that massage can have a positive effect on overall health, but it’s unclear whether it can treat carpal tunnel specifically. It’s possible that the effects are from massage being a relaxation technique rather than a treatment for carpal tunnel.
Benefits of Massage for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are many potential benefits to massage, including reduced stress and anxiety, improved sleep, and pain relief. People with carpal tunnel syndrome might also experience improved strength and range of motion in their hands and wrists.
1. Pain Relief - Massage can help ease pain and discomfort related to carpal tunnel and may improve your quality of life.
2. Improves Blood Flow - By increasing blood flow, massage may be able to reduce the swelling and pressure on the median nerve and help carpal tunnel syndrome.
3. Helps You Relax - Stress and anxiety can make the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome worse. Massage is proven to help you relax and feel less anxious, which may reduce your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
4. Improves Sleep - Many people with carpal tunnel syndrome have trouble sleeping because their symptoms wake them up. Massage has been shown to help people with insomnia fall asleep more easily.
5. Promotes Better Posture - Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause pain in the wrists, hands, forearms, and elbows. When you have these symptoms, you might start to hunch over and slouch in an attempt to relieve the pain. By receiving regular massages, you can help promote better posture and reduce the strain on your joints.
If your carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by stress, massage could help ease your symptoms by promoting relaxation and improving blood flow to the area.
People with carpal tunnel syndrome often have tight muscles in their wrists and shoulders, so massage can help ease these areas. It might also reduce your carpal tunnel symptoms by increasing blood flow to the area, which could help improve your strength and range of motion.
Risks of Massage for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are some potential side effects to keep in mind, including skin irritation and infection around the area where the massage is given. You may also experience redness, swelling, and pain at the site of the massage.
While massage therapy is generally safe for most people, there are some possible risks involved.
Risks of massage for carpal tunnel syndrome include infection if you have open sores or broken skin, bleeding if you have an open wound, and nerve or blood vessel damage if you have an existing injury. You may also experience pain, tingling, swelling, or cramping in the area being massaged.
1. Infection - Infection is a risk of any type of bodywork and is especially common in people with open wounds or sores on the skin. People with carpal tunnel syndrome are generally at a higher risk of infection because of the frequent use of the hands and the open wounds that often accompany the condition.
2. Excessive pain - Pain is a sign of excessive pressure on the tissues and nerves. While massage is generally considered safe, a therapist could cause excessive pressure that could increase pain and irritation rather than reduce it.
3. Allergic reaction - People who experience a rash or tingling after receiving a massage may be allergic to one of the ingredients in the massage oil.
4. Breakdown of scar tissue - Massage therapy may be too aggressive for people who have just undergone surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.
How Can Massage Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Researchers aren’t sure exactly why massage helps relieve some symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, but they think it may have something to do with increasing blood flow and reducing stress.
It might also have something to do with your central nervous system—the network that transmits information throughout your body and is responsible for regulating your autonomic functions, like your heartbeat, breathing, and digestion.
Massage is one of the most commonly recommended treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome. While research on massage for carpal tunnel is limited, available studies suggest that the following are true for almost all patients:
1. Pain reduction - Almost all patients reported some pain reduction after massage therapy. The degree of pain reduction varied between patients, but it was generally significant enough to improve quality of life.
2. Improvements in range of motion - The majority of patients reported a significant improvement in their range of motion after receiving massage therapy.
3. Decreased swelling in the wrist and hand - Many patients reported a reduction in swelling in the wrist and hand after the massage therapy.
4. Improved blood flow and nutrition to the tissues - Most patients reported an improvement in blood flow to the tissues in the hand after receiving massage therapy.
Your central nervous system is also responsible for your emotions and feelings. When you receive a massage, your central nervous system receives signals that there’s a reduction in stress. As a result, your heartbeat slows down and your blood vessels dilate. Eventually, this reduction in stress may be able to reduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Does Deep Tissue Massage Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Deep tissue massage may help with carpal tunnel syndrome, but more research is needed to confirm these findings. Deep tissue massage works to relieve symptoms and improve function for people with carpal tunnel syndrome by manipulating the soft tissues of the wrist and forearm.
While there isn’t any research specifically on deep tissue massage and carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s possible that soft tissue manipulation would help reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the median nerve. While light tissue massage could be helpful for carpal tunnel syndrome, deep tissue massage may be especially effective.
Deep tissue massage is a specific type of massage that targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissues in the body. It’s generally recommended for chronic pain, sports injuries, and other conditions, and it may help to relieve pain, improve flexibility, and reduce stiffness in the wrist. A deep tissue massage may help to relieve carpal tunnel pain by releasing the tension in the muscles that are causing the compression. While it’s unclear if deep tissue massage benefits carpal tunnel syndrome, it may help to release the tension in the muscles around the nerve.
What Kind of Massage is Good for Carpal Tunnel?
You want to choose a type of massage that’s appropriate for your symptoms. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you should avoid massaging the affected area. While there isn’t any research on massage for carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s possible that soft tissue manipulation could help reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the median nerve.
Massage therapy is a broad term that encompasses many different types of bodywork. While all types of massage may have some benefits for carpal tunnel, some are likely to be better than others. The type of massage therapy that may be best for carpal tunnel syndrome depends on a few things:
- What works best for the individual’s needs? Some people may benefit more from a specific type of massage than others.
- What does the individual’s doctor recommend? A doctor may suggest specific massage techniques for people with certain conditions or medications.
- What works best with the person’s schedule and budget? Some massage techniques are more expensive than others, and some can be more difficult to fit into a busy schedule.
If you’re suffering from carpal tunnel and your doctor recommends massage therapy, you should ask your massage therapist to avoid massaging the affected area.
How to Massage Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
If you receive a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor may recommend massage therapy. Massage doesn’t cure carpal tunnel syndrome, but it can help ease the pain and other symptoms. When massaging the wrists, you should avoid pressing too hard. You should also avoid massaging the thumb and index finger because those areas are more sensitive and may cause pain to flare up.
Consult your doctor first - before attempting to massage carpal tunnel syndrome, check with your doctor to make sure a massage is an appropriate form of treatment and that massage wouldn’t cause more harm than good.
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, here are some general guidelines for self-massage:
- Find a massage therapist - While self-massage can be beneficial, it is generally easier to find a massage therapist than to learn self-massage techniques and find the time to fit them into your schedule.
- Select a massage therapy - There are many different massage therapies that can be beneficial for people with carpal tunnel syndrome.
If you’re looking to get massage therapy, talk to your doctor and select a massage therapist based on your individual needs.
Tips for Safe Massaging and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, avoid massaging the affected area to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the median nerve.
While there is no research on massage for carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s possible that soft tissue manipulation could help reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the median nerve.
- Be careful not to massage too firmly - While it’s important to massage the tissues that are restricted in people with carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to massage them gently and avoid pressing too firmly on the tissues.
- Choose massage oil carefully - If you’re massaging the tissues in your wrist and hands, be careful to choose a massage oil that is safe for those tissues. Stay away from massage oils that contain menthol, eucalyptus, camphor, and peppermint, which are not safe for people with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Make sure to consult your doctor as massage might not be suitable for everyone, especially those with a medical condition. While massage is generally safe, you can ease some of the discomfort associated with carpal tunnel syndrome by taking steps to lower your risk of developing the condition.
For example, you can reduce stress in your life, adopt a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. You can also try self-massage by applying firm pressure to the area below your wrist in the fall of your hand. Learn more also how to massage hands and fingers.
If you suffer from carpal tunnel, it’s important to speak with your doctor before trying a massage. Your doctor may recommend a specific exercise program or a certain medication to help with the pain and swelling of carpal tunnel syndrome.