Hand Reflexology and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

March 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Reflexology Teaching

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.

Why?

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.

Causes:

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:

  • Pregnancy
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and other causes of inflammation of the wrist
  • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes and hypothyroidism
  • Wrist fracture
  • Alcoholism

Risk associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

The following are risk factors associated with the development of carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Repetition
  • High force
  • Awkward joint posture
  • Direct pressure
  • Vibration, and
  • Prolonged constrained posture
  • Poor ergonomics

Diagnosis:

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.

Treatment:

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.

Non-surgical treatments:

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.

Reflexology – Love the Moment

February 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Articles by Wendy

I enjoy finding something new each week to bring to you.

I love talking about the practical, the technical, the philosophical, but what I love the most are the moments in reflexology that bring me closer to spirit.

I’m sure you know what I mean – when you realize in the midst of your reflexology session, there’s just a quiet calm.

These are very special moments.

It reminds me of when I was an artist – a painter. I still am, but I say, “I used to be an artist” because I haven’t painted a picture for a while.

I remember my favorite part of that creative process – the part I loved the most was when I became one with the moment. And… all strung together they became hours, making it seem like time both stopped and flew by.

I’m sure that’s what kept me painting for almost 25 years. I’m just as sure I’ll return to it someday, but not because I miss those moments.

Let me explain…

I don’t think about feet much when I’m not working on them, but when I start to work on my client’s feet – it occupies my full attention.

I like to tell my students that there are really many layers to a reflexology session. Two of them are:

1)    The techniques – and we’ve got the best!
2)    The “attention” and “intention” that goes into the session.

When I start my session, I take a moment at the beginning and at the end to” intentionalize” what I want my client to gain from the session.

I usually weave this into the first point I hold– the solar plexus reflex.

Now, we reflexologists know that this is a very intense and powerful reflex point. In fact, I believe that if we could do nothing else, by holding this one point we could help the body in its natural balancing processes… IN A BIG WAY.

So while I’m there for those few seconds, or maybe up to a minute, I let my mind clear and I bring my focus to the table – ATTENTION.

I let my intuition tell me what thoughts to add, if anything, and intend that the reflexology – and safe compassionate touch – is “for my clients highest good” – INTENTION.

Sometimes, a little blessing or a mantra, an image or a sound will emerge and I add it all into the mix.

I’m one of those folks who believe that intention sets up the vibration, or the energy, for the whole session. It can affect us right down to the cellular level…

So, I always want to start from (and, I suggest that you NEVER underestimate the power of) these positive and powerful places – attention and intention.

From the solar plexus point on, the sequence of events that unfolds in a reflexology session are nothing short of miraculous.

Not because anything theatrical is going to happen, but because I will be a witness to the nuances and the changes, the textures and their shifts for the next hour of my life on this planet.

I sometimes think that reflexology, as great a tool as it is, is simply a vehicle for us to be present, fully present… for my client… and, for myself.

It is written into the “stone tablets” of reflexology. BE… PRESENT.

And, what happens when you’re fully present?

It feels to me like I can tap into the whisperings of the universe.

Sometimes I wonder why this occurs – what’s so special about these particular moments? Is it really just the feet? (It happens with the hands, the face and the ears too!)

There’s a level of “conversation” that goes beyond the verbal or even the spoken word. That conversation is a parlay between client and practitioner, indicating that there is support, a deep listening and peaceful rest available.

I find that most clients drink deep from this well.

I think of it as “holding the space for their healing to occur” (or, to continue or, to complete itself…)

This is sacred ground.

As my clients sink deeper and deeper into the layers of relaxation, I sink deeper and deeper into the surface of the skin.

My thumb and finger walking pressures don’t change much, but in my “mind’s eye”, I imagine the layers of tissue that I’m above and making contact with.

Sometimes, I even count the layers… skin, connective tissue, muscle, bone.

As my thumb walks steadily across the surface, every reflex point becomes a world unto itself.

I’ll give you an analogy… from an artist’s perspective.

It’s as if I was walking in a great museum (I like the Guggenheim Museum in New York City), and each reflex point is like a painting.

There’s a slow and steady pace you keep in order to get through all the rooms. Some rooms are covered at a glance, each painting quickly acknowledged and appreciated.

But, some rooms are taken at a much slower pace… and one or 2 paintings simply drawing you in.

There are even places where you stop altogether and just pause… for a moment… or two… struck with awe and wonder at the depth of this point.

Time is suspended.

By being there, by paying attention to what’s before me, I notice that all of the world is in front of me.

I think this quote sums up what I’m saying:

“Love the moment. Flowers grow out of dark moments. Therefore, each moment is vital. It effects the whole. Life is a succession of such moments and to live each, is to succeed.”

– Corita Kent

I’m sure I’ll take up painting again, but for the moment, I’m in no hurry.