Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects millions of Americans nationwide and costs companies billions in health insurance and workers’ compensation claims each year. A typical recovery plan involves corrective surgery. But there non-invasive solutions out there too.
In this article, we’ll cover what Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is, it’s causes and symptoms, and ways to relieve and avoid the pain of this condition.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Causes and Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by inflammation or entrapment of the median nerves within the carpal tunnel of the inside of the wrist. The symptoms can include pain, numbness and tingling in the hand, thumb, wrist and forearm. It may also include difficulty grasping or carrying objects. The pain may be worse in the evening and interrupt sleep.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is often associated with long-term repetitive motions or strain, such as working at a computer or assembly line for hours at a stretch. However, genetics such as hereditary small carpal tunnels and diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis may also contribute to the symptoms.
Is it Really Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Many people are diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome when they actually have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is also caused by nerve entrapment with the same symptoms of pain, numbness and tingling in the hand, thumb, wrist and forearm. However the nerve impingement is higher up in the neck and or in the shoulder region.
Whether you seek treatment from a medical or holistic doctor, surgeon, chiropractor, physical therapist or massage therapist, the provider should be aware of and have the ability to treat both conditions.
The Cost of Carpal Tunnel Treatment
Fixing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome requires relieving the pressure on the median nerve at the wrist. The prescribed care for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is usually one of the following treatments:
- Wrist splints
- They can immobilize the wrist and ease some pressure on the tendons which may allow the swelling and inflammation to go down on its own.
- However the splints do nothing to soften and lengthen the irritated muscles and tendons which are usually the source of the problem.
- Splints may range in price from $15 to $120.
- Carpal tunnel surgery
- This is the most invasive procedure for this condition, and the success rate is not high.
- The surgeon usually completely cuts away the flexor retinaculum which is the connective tissue that keeps the tendons and the median nerve in the carpal tunnel.
- The approximate cost is $5,000 or higher for each 30 minute surgical procedure.
- Although pain relief may be felt immediately after surgery, the source of the problem, the irritated and inflamed muscles and tendons, still have not been addressed.
These statistics on carpal tunnel surgery may provide some insight into the poor success rate often experienced by patients that undergo surgery:
- Only 23% of all Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients returned to their previous professions following surgery, according to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (1997-2000 Statistics).
- Up to 36% of all Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients require unlimited medical treatment.
- Carpal tunnel surgery has about a 57% failure rate following patients from 1-day to 6-years. At least one of the following symptoms re-occurred during this time: Pain, Numbness and Tingling. (Nancollas, et al, 1995. J. Hand Surgery.)
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Massage
Massage therapy for carpal tunnel is the most non-invasive, cost-efficient and effective long term treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Massage therapy addresses the inflammation, pain and numbness by softening and lengthening the muscles and fascia of the neck, shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand. Depending on the type of massage you receive the fees may be between $25 to $120 per hour. Some of this expense may be covered by your insurance.
During a massage to treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the therapist will use comprehensive deep tissue work that will help to release adhesions, trigger points, and tension in the soft tissue of the shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand. It will also be helpful to work with the pectoral and subscapularis muscles to release the medial rotation of the shoulder.
A massage session generally lasts 60-90 minutes and may be a full body with more emphasis on the affected arm or the session may be designed specifically for the neck, shoulder, and arm to address the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Many clients experience carpal tunnel relief after the first session, however for long term relief it will generally take 4 to 6 sessions. This will depend on the severity and length of time of symptoms. It should be noted that feeling relief of your symptoms does not mean that the condition has been completely cured so be sure to continue consulting with your medical doctor.
Carpal Tunnel Relief and Prevention
Our body posture and repetitive behaviors are usually the cause of both Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Modifications in your daily routines can help prevent future issues. Be sure to consult your medical doctor before starting any type of exercise or therapy program. Here are some tips to get started:
- Avoid keeping your wrists in the same position for more than 30 minutes at a time.
- Move your entire body as much and as often as you can at work.
- Avoid slouching, as it strains the neck and shoulders affecting your wrists and hands.
- Stretch your pectoral muscles several times a day by grasping your wrists behind your back and holding for 30-60 seconds.
- Do deep shoulder shrugs by bringing your shoulders to your ears and back down in circular motions.
- Massage your own arms, wrists, hands and fingers to improve your circulation.
- Don’t let one hand overcompensate for the other, use them evenly.
- Maintain the correct posture while sitting at your desk.
- Keep your forearms level with the keyboard while typing.
- Avoid bending your wrists or performing repetitive motions for long periods of time.
- Wearing a wrist splint while typing can ensure that your wrists remain level and relieve pressure on your median nerve.
- Getting regular monthly massages can help to treat neck and shoulder pain and will reduce the strain you put on your wrists at work.