Hand Reflexology and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Every reflexologist needs to know about the carpal tunnel. It’s important because you’ll have clients that complain about it. Equally important – you want to avoid getting it yourself. And, if you already have it you need to be especially careful.
You’ve heard me over and over again – I say that we reflexologists don’t treat, don’t prescribe and don’t diagnose. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know what’s going on.
Clients often hope that reflexology will be a magic bullet to their health woes. I can’t say it will be, and I can’t help but smiling too.
Because, most people will experience a reduction in pain and/or symptoms with Hand Reflexology. That’s true for local issues on the hands – even though they’re not the intended destination.
This is important – let me explain.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is pain or weakness in your forearm and hand caused by pressure on a nerve in your wrist. It is a medical condition in which the median nerve is compressed at the wrist, leading to paresthesias, numbness and muscle weakness in the hand.
The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (although not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move.
The carpal tunnel – a narrow, rigid passage way of ligament and bones at the base of the hand – houses the median nerve and tendons.
Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the median nerve to be compressed.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome:
Symptoms most often occur in the parts of the hand supplied by the median nerve: the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger.
If your little finger is not affected, this may be a sign that the condition is carpal tunnel syndrome, because the little finger is usually controlled by a different nerve (the ulnar nerve) than the thumb and other fingers.
Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers (especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers).
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the result of a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself.
Some other symptoms are:
- Tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain felt in the fingers or, less commonly in the pal
- Pain in your forearm, wrist or palm
- More numbness or pain at night than during the day. The pain may be so bad it wakes you up. You may shake or rub your hand to get relief
- More pain when you use your hand or wrist more
- Trouble gripping object
- Weakness in your thumb
Fact: Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, perhaps because the carpal tunnel itself may be smaller in women than in men.
The Carpal Tunnel Syndrome causes might be due to work conditions or due to underlying medical problems.
Other causes that could lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other causes of inflammation of the wrist
- Endocrine disorders such as diabetes and hypothyroidism
- Wrist fracture
Risk associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
The following are risk factors associated with the development of carpal tunnel syndrome:
- High force
- Awkward joint posture
- Direct pressure
- Vibration, and
- Prolonged constrained posture
- Poor ergonomics
If you, or your client has some or all of these symptoms – unless you’re a medical professional you cannot diagnose it.
In fact, when a client tells me they have carpal tunnel syndrome I always ask who made the diagnosis. It makes a difference whether it was a doctor or a specialist – or their aunt Betty or someone at the local gym.
There are a few simple tests that can be done to check general function of the wrist (you’ll learn those in the Hand Reflexology Workshop and more). This will help emphasize the importance for your client to seek the appropriate medical help.
Of course, early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid permanent damage to the median nerve.
A physical examination of the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck can help determine if the patient’s complaints are related to an underlying disorder or to daily activities.
The wrist is examined for tenderness, swelling, warmth, and discoloration.
Each finger should be tested for sensation, and the muscles at the base of the hand should be examined for strength and signs of atrophy.
Routine laboratory tests and X-rays can reveal diabetes, arthritis, and fractures.
Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome vary and should begin as early as possible, under a doctor’s direction.
- Underlying causes such as diabetes or arthritis should be treated first.
- If there is inflammation, applying cool packs can help reduce swelling.
There are a couple of homeopathic creams that might help the symptoms:
Brands like Traumeel (a calendula and arnica based ointment) and Topricin (with 11 homeopathic ingredients) have both shown effectiveness and are available in many health food stores.
In special circumstances, various drugs can ease the pain and swelling associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. NSAIDS such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonprescription pain relievers, may ease symptoms that have been present for a short time or have been caused by strenuous activity.
Alternative support therapies – Hand Reflexology, Acupuncture and chiropractic care have benefited some patients.
Exercise – Stretching and strengthening exercises can be helpful in people whose symptoms have abated.
Doctors will sometimes suggest that one wear a wrist splint (can be purchased at most drugstores) to keep the wrist in a neutral position at rest. Splinting is usually tried for a period of 4-6 weeks.
What can Reflexology Do?
As a reflexologist, why would I even care about carpal tunnel syndrome if it’s not my job to fix it?
Remember, if you or anyone you know even thinks they have this problem – it’s very important they get the appropriate medical attention.
And, I’m repeating myself here too – with any illness, stress is always a factor. Rest is important and the stress relief that Hand Reflexology brings is a wonderful component to any health maintenance regime.
If carpal tunnel is acute (meaning it hurts or it’s active now) you won’t want to work on the area directly.
There are a lot of things to know and even more to think about. Be very careful with any nerve impingement.
I’ve learned this from my own experience – nerves do not like to be irritated – because it just make them, well, crankier. Not good.
If you’re trained in Hand Reflexology you know that there are some very specific strategies to support the body in its own healing process.
And, what about the reflexes?
Good point. There are specific reflexes in the area and as a good reflexologist, you need to also be focused on the systems of the body.
Be curious about these reflex area – does the client also have sciatica? Do they have any reproductive or digestive issues?
Inherent in the Hand Reflexology techniques (I can’t say what others teach, usually – not this much), are techniques that will let you work safely to relax the hand.
And, what if you don’t have this specific training? – I suggest that you work the good hand and the opposite foot – or the ears.
The benefits of reflexology can be nothing short of amazing.
And, it’s never been more apparent than in the UK where an British media article from 2004 reports that; “According to a survey conducted on behalf of Yellow Pages…, the number of high street greengrocers has declined by almost 60 per cent in 10 years, while the number of reflexologists is up over 800 per cent.”
I rest my case.