Working Healthy

Carpal Tunnel: Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

Once viewed as “ New-age alternatives,” massage, acupuncture, and the Alexander techniques are gaining ground as conservative approaches to preventing and alleviating the painful and sometimes debilitating symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Numbness. Tingling. Burning sensation. Pain. Weakened grip. These symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) strike fear in the hearts of many nail techs, whose livelihoods depend on strong hands and nimble fingers. Yet every nail tech could experience the symptoms of CTS at some point in her career. The hunched postures, crunched necks and shoulders, and repetitive wrist motions typical to doing nails stress the tendons in the carpal tunnel- a narrow passageway of bone and ligaments in your wrist. As those tendons swell, they can press on the nerve that controls the sensations in your fingers as well as the movement of some muscles in your hand. That pressure in turn leads to the numbness, pain, and grip weakness associated with CTS. 

Rather than interpret the symptoms as a death knell to your career, hear them as a warning sign to take action. First, take preventative measures to avoid developing the symptoms of CTS by examining your workstation ergonomics:

Ÿ Are your chair and station heights such that you can sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor?

Ÿ Can you grasp your client’s hand without leaning over?

Ÿ Do you have a cushioned armrest on your side of the table?

Next, take a hard look at (or better yet have a friend or coworker observe) your work habits. Avoid hunching over or scrunching your neck or shoulders. Keep you wrist straight and relaxed while you work, and take frequent breaks to stretch your fingers and thumbs, and to do wrist curls and circles.

Finally, if your do begin to experience symptoms of CTS, don’t delay in seeking treatment. When addressed early, CTS doesn’t have to result in costly surgery and a time-consuming recovery. NAILS identified three complementary approaches- massage, acupuncture, and the Alexander technique- that let you take an active role in preventing and alleviating the painful and sometimes debilitating symptoms of CTS.

Massage Away Your Pain

Carpal tunnel message is one of the hottest “special needs” massage treatments showing up on salon and spa menus, and researchers say it’s no gimmick. In a recent study on carpal tunnel and massage therapy at the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine, researchers documented notable improvement in the CTS symptoms of participants who self-message their hand, wrists, and forearms daily in addition to receiving a weekly treatment from a massage therapist.

“The 15-minute massage consisted of moderate-pressure stroking concentrated on the fingertip or elbow area,” says Tiffany Fields, director of the Touch Research Institutes and lead author of the study. ”The massage begins with stroking the wrist up to the elbow and back down on bother sides of the forearm. Next, a wringing motion- much like milking a cow- is applied to the same area. This followed by stroking, using the thumb and forefinger, in a circular or back-and-forth motion covering the entire firearm and hand. Finally, the skin is rolled using the thumb and forefinger across the hand and up both sides of the forearm.”

After just four weeks, participants not only reported a stronger grip and less pain, but their median peak latency - a measurement of the transmission of electrical impulses through the carpal tunnel - improved as well.

It’s conceivable that if you massage on a regular basis you wouldn’t need surgery,” Fields says. Study participants self-massaged each evening for 15 minutes, but Fields believes your could boost the benefits by breaking the self- message sessions into five minute segments spaced throughout your workday.

Stephen Chagnon, R.N., LMT, also has developed carpal tunnel massage techniques geared to individuals and massage professionals based on the principles of lymphatic drainage. “Tissue waist is usually removed by the lymphatic system,” Chagnon explains. “Blockages to normal lymphatic fluid limits muscle contraction and create a variety of other phenomena, including weakness, numbness, and pain.”

Lymphatic massage to alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel starts on the body and works toward the wrists. “The keys to successful lymph massage are touch, direction, flow and timing,” he explains. “The main challenges are positioning and relaxing.” 

Lymphatic drainage requires a light touch (about the weight of a nickel) and short strokes – ¼- to ½-inch long – at the first and progressing to ¾- to 1-inch long as lymph fluids start to flow. Chagnon’s technique – covered in depth in his manual, Carpal Tunnel Massage for Yourself and others – starts on the body and progresses to the extensor and flexor muscles of the forearm then the wrists, then the hand, (for information on Chagnon’s self-massage method, visit the American Massage Therapy Association.) 

Keywords:   carpal tunnel syndrome     ergonomics     massage  

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