The Mayo Clinic describes carpal tunnel syndrome as a “progressively painful hand and arm condition caused by a pinched nerve.” Several factors may contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, including anatomy, health conditions, and patterns of hand use. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway, about as big around as your thumb, bound by bones and ligaments and located on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel protects a main nerve (the median nerve) to your hand and nine tendons that bend your fingers. Compression of the median nerve produces the symptoms that characterize carpal tunnel syndrome.
The following is a list of sign and symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Weakness in one or both hands
- Numbness or tingling in the thumb and next two or three fingers of one or both hands
- Numbness or tingling of the palm of the hand
- Wrist or hand pain in one or both hands
- Pain extending to the elbow
- Impaired fine finger movements (coordination) in one or both hands
- Weak grip or difficulty carrying bags (a common complaint)
- Atrophy of the muscular bulge under the thumb
Conservative treatment involves resting and splinting the affected hand and wrist, avoiding aggravating activities, changing patterns of hand use, taking frequent breaks, and using cold compresses to help with swelling. Acupuncture, yoga, stretching and strengthening exercises recommended by a physical or occupational therapist may help relieve pain as well. Furthermore, therapeutic massage has been shown to help alleviate symptoms.
According to a recent study conducted by the staff at the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Florida, "Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms are lessened and grip strength increased following massage therapy." Massage not only works on relaxing the muscles in the wrist and hand, but also muscles further up the arm, into the neck and shoulders which can be contributing to the compression of the nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel. The Mayo Clinic warns that poor posture can make your shoulders roll forward, shortening your neck and shoulder muscles. This leads to compressed nerves in your neck, which can affect your fingers, hands and wrists.