You experience soreness in the forearms, pain in the hands at the end of a long day on the computer, and a feeling of tightness that can spread from your hands and wrists all the way to your elbows. Even headaches can develop. Your doctor may tell you s/he can operate, but surgery isn’t always successful. A smart MD will recommend that you try bodywork before resorting to surgery.
Computer operators and others who repeat the same motion or series of motions in the same way many times a day over a long period of time, can literally wear out the tissues involved in that motion. This type of injury – called a repetitive strain injury, or RSI – creates tiny micro-tears in the fibers of the soft tissues of the body. While they don’t immediately cause loss of function, these micro-tears set up conditions for chronic inflammation that will eventually manifest as pain, soreness, tightness, tingling, and burning.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The hand and wrist work together as an amazing mechanical, energetic, and anatomical wonder. The muscles of the forearm move the fingers via long tendons that run through channels, or tendon sheaths, in the wrist. The nerves that send and receive sensory and motor information from the brain run alongside the tendons through these same channels.
When bending or straightening the fingers, these tendons slide back and forth, just like cables. When continually working at a keyboard and using the same motion in the same position thousands of times a day – like millions of Americans do – the tendon/cables begin to wear. And just like threads in a rope, some of the collagen fibers will tear. Eventually enough fibers are torn that the body develops inflammation in the tendons and sheaths. Swelling pinches the nerves, producing the classic symptoms of tingling, swelling, and even loss of grip strength.
The Bigger Picture
The symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may reveal an even bigger problem. The nerves that carry sensory and motor information to the hand arise from the spinal cord in the neck, travel under the collar bone, through the armpit and elbow, all the way to the wrist. A nerve can become entrapped at the neck, shoulder, elbow, or wrist, and an impingement in any of these places can have a cumulative effect on the tingling felt in the hands. These entrapments are usually caused by poor postural habits. The soft tissues become shortened around habitual positions of rounded-shoulders and forward-head from working long hours at the computer. As a result, the channels where the nerves travel through the shoulders and arms can close down. Sound familiar?
Can Massage Help?
A study conducted by The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine looked at the efficacy of bodywork in treating carpal tunnel syndrome. Researchers found that after the completion of four massage sessions, the participants experienced an improvement in grip strength and a decrease in pain, anxiety, and depression. Participants also showed improvement in specific medical tests used to diagnose Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
This landmark study verifies what bodyworkers have observed clinically for years: Massage can reorganize the connective tissue fibers, break up scar tissue, and reduce or eliminate the cause of inflammation. Soft tissue work helps realign these tiny fibers of the tendons and sheaths, and the body can then heal itself – and ease or even eliminate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Bodywork to the entire arm, shoulder, and neck will also free soft tissues where hidden tightness can contribute to the problem. Soft tissue inflammation can travel through the continuous connective tissue framework from fingertips to head and even cause headaches. Massage can restore these tissues to normal function. In the final analysis, along with exercise and good nutrition, make it a point to include bodywork as part of your regular wellness program. Regular massage reduces connective tissue inflammation and prevents scar tissue from forming. Massage is the treatment of choice to keep Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from slowing you down.