Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition characterized by tingling, numbness and pain in the hand and fingers (particularly the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers). These symptoms are often the result of median nerve irritation in the wrist or forearm.


Why Give Massage Therapy A Try?

Massage therapy as a therapeutic intervention is being embraced by the medical community, it is simple to carry out, economical, and has very few side effects. One area that is being explored is the use of massage therapy for patients who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that for some patients who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome there is no significant differences in pain and functional outcomes at six and twelve months when surgical and conservative care are tested (Fernández-de-Las Peñas et al. 2017).

Why Does Massage Therapy Work?

The responses to massage therapy are complex and multifactorial - physiological and psychological factors interplay in a complex manner. Research has looked at both peripheral and central responses elicited by massage therapy treatments.

Pain Management
Massage has a modulatory affect on peripheral and central processes via input from large sensory neurons that prevents the spinal cord from amplifying the nociceptive signal. This anti-nociceptive effect of massage therapy can help ease discomfort in patients who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome.

Peripheral Response
The median nerve passes through many structures and it may be exposed to mechanical irritation at many different points (Filius et al. 2017). Prolonged irritation may result in a reduction of intraneural blood flow. In turn, local hypoxia of a peripheral nerve leads to a drop in tissue pH that triggers the release of inflammatory mediators, known as “inflammatory soup”, this noxious substance can disrupt the normal function of nerves. Massage therapy may diminish intraneural edema and/or pressure by mobilizing the median nerve as well as associated vascular structures (Boudier-Revéret et al. 2017).

Carpal tunnel specific work may also involve specific soft tissue treatment to optimize the ability of mechanical interfaces to glide relative relative to the median nerve. Ongoing tissue hypoxia or inflammatory responses lead to molecular signaling that promote the development of fibrosis, this may contribute to further peripheral nerve dysfunction (Fisher et al. 2015). The application of appropriate shear force and pressure impart a mechanical stimulus that may attenuate tissue levels of fibrosis and TGF-β1 (Bove et al. 2016).

Infraspinatus Test in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The infraspinatus provocation test ( Meder et al. 2017 ).

The infraspinatus provocation test (Meder et al. 2017).

The etiology of myofascial triggerpoints are still not well understood, but that does not deny the existence of the clinical phenomenon.

A contemporary view of 'myofascial trigger-points' is presented by Shah, this categorizes 'myofascial trigger-points' by the a number of measurable characteristics: local and remote inflammation, local acidic milieu, local sensitization, local regions of hypoxia, local muscle stiffness (Shah et al. 2015). 

Studies have demonstrated that assessing and treating the infraspinatus muscle may be an effective treatment option for a sub-group of patients with suffer from symptoms that present similarly to carpal tunnel syndrome (Meder et al. 2017).

Structures To Be Aware Of When Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Systematic reviews have also shown that manual therapy combined with multimodal care can improve symptoms, decrease disability and improve function for patients who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome (Huisstede et al. 2018). Additionally, a recent randomized controlled trial in the journal Brain found that acupuncture improved the outcomes for carpal tunnel syndrome by remapping the brain (Maeda et al. 2017).

A massage therapy treatment plan should be implemented based on patient-specific assessment findings and patient tolerance. Structures to keep in mind while assessing and treating patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome may include neurovascular structures and investing fascia of:
• scalene muscles
• costo-clavicle space
• pectoralis minor
• biceps brachii muscle
• bicipital aponeurosis
• pronator teres
• transverse carpal ligament
• anterior interosseous membrane
• palmar aponeurosis
• infraspinatus
• lumbricals

More to Explore

Related Links
• Massage Therapy and Postoperative Care
• Traumatic Muscle Fibrosis:  From pathway to prevention 
• Massage Therapy and Compartment Syndrome 
• The Role of Massage in Scar Management 
• Research on Massage and Cancer 
• Sports Massage - The Science is Emerging 
• Massage Therapy and Dupuytren's Disease 

Research Links
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Bair et al. (2016). Differential Diagnosis and Intervention of Proximal Median Nerve Entrapment: A Resident's Case Problem. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.

Baselgia et al. (2017). Negative Neurodynamic Tests Do Not Exclude Neural Dysfunction in Patients With Entrapment Neuropathies. Arch Phys Med Rehabil.

Basson et al. (2017). The Effectiveness of Neural Mobilization for Neuro-Musculoskeletal Conditions: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.

Berrueta et al. (2016). Stretching Impacts Inflammation Resolution in Connective Tissue. Journal of Cellular Physiology.

Bishop et al. (2015). What effect can manual therapy have on a patient's pain experience? Pain Management. 

Boudier-Revéret et al. (2017). Effect of neurodynamic mobilization on fluid dispersion in median nerve at the level of the carpal tunnel: A cadaveric study. Musculoskelet Sci Pract.

Bove et al. (2016). Manual therapy as an effective treatment for fibrosis in a rat model of upper extremity overuse injury. Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 

Bove et al. (2019). Manual therapy prevents onset of nociceptor activity, sensorimotor dysfunction, and neural fibrosis induced by a volitional repetitive task. Pain.

Bueno-Gracia et al. (2018). Dimensional changes of the carpal tunnel and the median nerve during manual mobilization of the carpal bones. Musculoskelet Sci Pract.

Elliott & Burkett (2013). Massage therapy as an effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. J Bodyw Mov Ther.

Erickson et al. (2019). Hand Pain and Sensory Deficits: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.

Fernández-de-Las Peñas et al. (2015). Manual Physical Therapy Versus Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Parallel-Group Trial.The Journal of Pain.

Fernández-de-Las-Peñas et al. (2017). The Effectiveness of Manual Therapy versus Surgery on Self-Reported Function, Cervical Range of Motion and Pinch Grip Force in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Clinical Trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.

Fernández-de-Las-Peñas et al. (2017). Effectiveness of manual therapy versus surgery in pain processing due to carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized clinical trial. Eur J Pain.

Fernández-de-Las-Peñas C & Plaza-Manzano G. (2018). Carpal tunnel syndrome: just a peripheral neuropathy? Pain Manag.

Fernández-de-Las-Peñas et al. (2019). Cost-Effectiveness Evaluation of Manual Physical Therapy Versus Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Evidence From a Randomized Clinical Trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.

Festen-Schrier & Amadio (2018). The biomechanics of subsynovial connective tissue in health and its role in carpal tunnel syndrome. J Electromyogr Kinesiol.

Filius et al. (2015). The effect of tendon excursion velocity on longitudinal median nerve displacement: differences between carpal tunnel syndrome patients and controls. J Orthop Res. 

Filius et al. (2017). Delineation of the mechanisms of tendon gliding resistance within the carpal tunnel. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon).

Fisher et al. (2015). Increased CCN2, substance P and tissue fibrosis are associated with sensorimotor declines in a rat model of repetitive overuse injury. Journal of Cell Communication and Signaling. 

Gilbert et al. (2015). Effects of simulated neural mobilization on fluid movement in cadaveric peripheral nerve sections: Implications for the treatment of neuropathic pain and dysfunction. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy. 

Huisstede et al. (2018). The Effectiveness of Surgical and Post-Surgical Interventions for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-A Systematic Review. Arch Phys Med Rehabil.

Huisstede et al. (2018). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Effectiveness of Physical Therapy and Electrophysical Modalities. An Updated Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Arch Phys Med Rehabil.

Lane et al. (2017). Complaints of Upper Extremity Numbness and Tingling Relieved With Dry Needling of the Teres Minor and Infraspinatus: A Case Report. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.

Lim et al. (2017). Median nerve mobilization techniques in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome: A systematic review. J Hand Ther.

Louw et al. (2017). A clinical perspective on a pain neuroscience education approach to manual therapy. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy.

Madenci et al. (2012). Reliability and efficacy of the new massage technique on the treatment in the patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. Rheumatol Int.

Maeda et al. (2017). Rewiring the primary somatosensory cortex in carpal tunnel syndrome with acupuncture. Brain.

Martínez-Merinero et al. (2017). The influence of a depressed scapular alignment on upper limb neural tissue mechanosensitivity and local pressure pain sensitivity. Musculoskelet Sci Pract.

Miranda-Medina et al. (2019). Is manual therapy based on neurodynamic techniques effective in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome? A randomized controlled trial. Clin Rehabil.

Meder et al. (2017). Reliability of the Infraspinatus Test in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Clinical Study. J Clin Diagn Res.

Padua et al. (2016). Carpal tunnel syndrome: clinical features, diagnosis, and management. Lancet Neurol.

Park, D. (2017). Ultrasonography of the Transverse Movement and Deformation of the Median Nerve and Its Relationships with Electrophysiological Severity in the Early Stages of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Piper et al. (2016). The effectiveness of soft-tissue therapy for the management of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the upper and lower extremities: A systematic review by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury management (OPTIMa) collaboration. Manual Therapy.

Pratelli et al. (2015). Conservative treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome: comparison between laser therapy and Fascial Manipulation(®). J Bodyw Mov Ther.

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Schmid et al. (2009). Reliability of clinical tests to evaluate nerve function and mechanosensitivity of the upper limb peripheral nervous system. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 

Schmid et al. (2012). Effect of splinting and exercise on intraneural edema of the median nerve in carpal tunnel syndrome--an MRI study to reveal therapeutic mechanisms. J Orthop Res.

Schmid et al. (2013). Reappraising entrapment neuropathies--mechanisms, diagnosis and management. Man Ther.

Shi et al. (2018). Comparison of the Short-term and Long-term Effects of Surgery and Nonsurgical Intervention in Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Hand (N Y).

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Werthel et al. (2014). Carpal tunnel syndrome pathophysiology: role of subsynovial connective tissue. J Wrist Surg. 

Wolny et al. (2017). Efficacy of Manual Therapy Including Neurodynamic Techniques for the Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther.

Wolny & Linek (2018). Is manual therapy based on neurodynamic techniques effective in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome? A randomized controlled trial. Clin Rehabil.

Wolny, T., & Linek, P. (2018). The Effect of Manual Therapy Including Neurodynamic Techniques on the Overall Health Status of People With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther.

Yamanaka et al. (2018). Blocking fibrotic signaling in fibroblasts from patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. J Cell Physiol.