Can Massage Therapy Help Nerve Compression?
This article was originally published by MyoCareRMT.com.
Working as a Toronto RMT for the past 10 years, I have had many clients complain of numbness, tingling, or altered sensation in the arm and hand. These symptoms can vary from a mild annoyance to intense discomfort, which affects the clients ability to perform simple daily tasks. The good news is that massage therapy for nerve compression can help!
In order to be able to properly treat the nerve compression, it is first vital that your RMT ( registered massage therapist) determine where and which nerve is being compressed. The nerves of the arm all originate in the neck. From there, they form a web of nerves called the brachial plexus. They then travel down, under the collar bone ( clavicle), under the pectoralis minor, and into the back and front of the arm, until they reach the tips of the fingers. since they have to travel quite a far distance, there are actually quite a few areas the nerves of the arm can get compressed.
Areas of upper limb nerve compression
- At the nerve root where the nerve exits the neck: This can be caused by degeneration of the discs that are found in between each vertebrae. This degeneration causes a narrowing of the small hole that the nerve exits the spine. Arthritis is the neck can also cause this narrowing, as well as tight neck muscles.
- Under the scalenes muscles: the scalenes are muscles that are located in the front and side of the neck. There are 3 of them. The brachial plexus has the squeeze in between these small muscles. If these muscles get tight ( very common) they can compress on the nerves, causing symptoms, from the neck, all the way to the fingers.
- Under the clavicle: The brachial plexus then has to travel in between the 1st rib and the clavicle. Fracture of the clavicle can cause compression, as well as tightening of the neck and pectoralis muscles.
- Under the pectoralis minor: The pectoralis minor is a small, but powerful muscle located in the anterior chest, under the pectoralis major. If it gets tight and short ( common with rounded shoulder posture) it will compress and traction the brachial plexus that runs underneath it.
- Damage at the ulnar groove: The ulnar groove is better known as the funny bone. It is located at the medial elbow. The ulnar nerve is very superficial and exposed in this grove. This is why it hurts so much when you hit your funny bone. If you hit the nerve hard enough, it can become damaged and cause pain and tingling down into the forarm and pinky area.
- In between the 2 heads of the pronator Teres: The pronator Teres is a muscle located on the front of the forearm, close to the elbow. The median nerve travels in between two sections of the muscle. If this muscle get s tight, it can compress the median nerve, causing similar symptoms to carpal tunnel.
- In the carpal Tunnel: The carpal tunnel is located in the wrist. It is made up of small wrist bones, and ligaments. The median nerve must travel through this tunnel to innervate the hand. Primarily the thumb, and first 2 fingers. If the muscles of the forearm, which also travel through this tunnel, get tight, they can compress the nerve. Swelling and water retention can also cause compression. Or holding your hand and wrist in a certain position, for a long time, like when you are using the computer.
Symptoms of nerve compression
The most common symptom of nerve compression is often radiating pain, tingling or numbness. These sensations can vary from a mild annoyance, to intense pain and discomfort. Often the pain will not be relieved by simple analgesic medication. The area of pain or paresthesia ( altered sensation) will depend on which nerve is compressed, and where the compression is.
How Massage Therapy for nerve compression can Help
Like I mentioned before, it is very important to determine where the compression is, in order to effectively treat it. This can be done with simple orthopedic testing. Your RMT ( registered massage therapist) is highly trained in orthopedic assessment. With a few simple tests, he/she can figure out the location of the compression, and it’s cause. It is common for the nerve to get compressed in more than once location, this is known as double crush syndrome. This is why it is very important that your Massage therapist perform a thorough assessment.
Since the majority or nerve compression are caused my tight muscles, massage therapy for nerve compression is extremely effective in relieving the symptoms. Massaging the tight and shortened muscles, followed by some stretching to re-lengthen them, will lift the compression off the nerve. Allowing the nerve to eventually heal. It is important to note, that even if the compression on the nerve is decreased or eliminated, it may take a while for the nerve to heal. This means the symptoms may stick around for a while, even if the compression is fixed
In most cases your RMT will also have to give you exercises to fix posture, and mobilize nerve adherences. ( nerves can get stuck to their surrounding tissues if irritated) This will help prevent the compression from coming back.
If you are experiencing any nerve compression symptoms, it is important to seek help from a qualified RMT as soon as possible. The faster you receive proper intervention, the less nerve damage will occur. This is very important because, in some cases, nerve damage can be permanent.
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