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Massage Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Massage therapy can be of great benefit for people dealing with pain—and carpal tunnel syndrome is of no difference.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Simply put, carpal tunnel syndrome is the inflammation or entrapment of nerves within the carpal tunnel of the anterior wrist, which can cause pain and numbness. “Most of my clients see me presenting with the classic symptoms,” explains Richard Garcia, a massage therapist in private practice in Peyton, Colorado. “These symptoms include numbness and tingling in the hand, difficulty grasping or carrying objects and, sometimes, hand pain.” Some clients, too, report the pain is worse in the evening, and sleep can be interrupted. The causes of carpal tunnel syndrome are often associated with repetitive motion, such as working at a computer all day, for example, though other factors can come into play as well.

How Massage Can Help?

Techniques used. There are a variety of ways you can work with clients who have carpal

tunnel syndrome. Though much of the focus may be on the wrist area, as with other problems, more than one structure may be involved. Garcia does a full-body session with a concentration on the wrist, believing that carpal tunnel is very rarely strictly a wrist problem. “My opinion is that if the client has carpal tunnel syndrome, the probability of other muscles being out of balance is approximately 100 percent,” he says.

Bennett agrees. “The arm is usually in a torsion pattern that is present in the rest of the body,” says Bennett. “Typically carpal tunnel syndrome clients will present with an internal rotation of shoulder and arm. Because the nerve that supplies the sensation in the carpal tunnel originates in the neck and shoulder area, I feel it is important to release possible ‘kinks’ along the entire nerve pathway.”

Using detailed deep tissue work that releases tension, adhesions and trigger points in the soft tissue of the shoulder, full arm and hand, Bennett works to bring the shoulder and arm out of internal rotation. General uses orthopedic massage techniques like myofascial release through stripping, compression and active engagement.

Typical session. Bennet begins by releasing the internal rotation of the shoulder, specifically the pectoral muscles and subscapularis. “Then, starting at the upper arm, down to the elbow, forearm and hand, I feel for adhesions and fibrous tissue, especially along the nerve pathways, releasing them systematically,” he says.

General typically works on clients for an hour, using heat and compression to reduce hypertonicity in the flexor muscles. “This is followed by myofascial release techniques and stretching of the muscle tissue,” he says. “The entirety of the session is not devoted to releasing the forearm but the whole arm, shoulder girdle and cervical region."

Time it takes. The number of sessions a client needs to find relief will vary of course, and most often is dependent on how severe the problem is. “I’ve had clients improve in one 60-minute session,” General says. “Others have improved in six, 60-minute sessions, after addressing primary, secondary and tertiary reasons for carpal tunnel syndrome.”

Most agree, however, that clients should see some relief after the first session. “Most clients experience some relief after the first session,” explains Bennett. “Typically it takes three to five sessions to get long-term results, sometimes more, sometimes less.”

Garcia uses deep tissue and neuromuscular therapy, saying clients usually begin to see relief almost immediately. He’s careful to temper this statement, however. “Note that relief does not mean complete resolution of symptoms,” he cautions.

One of the biggest factors concerning the time it takes for clients to find relief revolves around the time they’ve spent suffering from the symptoms. According to Bennett, the longer a person goes without treatment, the longer it takes for them to recover, generally speaking.

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