Overcome Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Pain with Better Massage

So you’ve been diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. What now? 

Activities like writing or knitting can be painful or impossible to do with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Activities like writing or knitting can be painful or impossible to do with carpal tunnel syndrome. Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

Many people don’t realize that massage therapy can be beneficial to overcome Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or CTS, pain. Elliott & Burkett found in their study that “[m]assage therapy demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of CTS, with significant symptom reduction and functional improvement from as soon as two weeks” (2013). In another study, “[t]he mean reduction in pain was 290%” in the group that received manual therapy (Wolny, et al, 2017).

How do you know if a massage therapist can help with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

To be effective with massage therapy for CTS, the massage therapist needs to know their stuff when it comes to anatomy and hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is the use of hot and cold therapies, usually using hot or cold packs or stones. Hydrotherapy can facilitate deep work while also reducing pain and inflammation in the affected wrist and forearm. Anatomy, however, refers to the structures of the body.

Another thing you want from your massage therapist is the ability to get deep into the muscles without relying on pressure. This is not the time for painful “deep tissue” (a misnomer) massage. It’s important to speak with the massage therapist frankly about their abilities in massage for a diagnosis like CTS or other pain conditions. While massage therapy can be helpful for this, if your massage therapist doesn’t know how to treat the issue, you’re wasting your time. Look for references to “clinical” or “medical” massage on their website, in addition to discussing your needs and diagnosis with them. 

“Massage definitely helped [my] forearms–back to knitting comfortably again!”

Marie B.

What should I expect from the treatment?

When you visit a massage therapist that can help with CTS, they will have you fill out an intake form about your health and the diagnosis itself. Your massage therapist needs to know how long you have been experiencing symptoms and what they feel like to you. Then the therapist will administer some simple tests to support your diagnosis. One of these is Phalen’s Test, which involves pressing the backs of your hands together with your elbows bent. When you do this test, a “positive” is having CTS symptoms.

These are all manual tests and do not require special machinery. The massage therapist may also measure the range of motion in your joints. Whether or not the tests are positive for CTS, targeted massage will reduce the tension in your muscles that can cause the symptoms consistent with CTS. One study in 2008 “found a significant increase in [grip] strength measures” in participants who received targeted massage for their CTS (Moraska, et al.).

Then, the therapist will likely apply heat to some parts of your arm and shoulder to relax the muscles. They also may use cold where you have any swelling, such as the wrist itself. The massage itself will probably not be very relaxing, but it should not push beyond “hurts so good” to a level of bad pain. Be sure to mention to your therapist how you feel at any time. If you tense up because you’re in pain, the treatment will be less effective. They are likely to work on your neck, shoulder, underarm, and arm itself, especially for the first visit.

The torso of a person with an arm across their chest. A therapist holds the shoulder and elbow to test it.
A therapist palpates and tests the shoulder for nerve compression. Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

How often will I need massage?

You can expect to go to the massage therapist’s clinic up to two times a week for four to six weeks, depending on how your muscles and nerves react. If your massage therapist gives you recommendations on what to do between visits, it is important you follow instructions to improve your chances of the therapy being effective.

Does massage really work for Carpal Tunnel?

For my clients, it does. “Massage definitely helped [my] forearms–back to knitting comfortably again!” says Marie B., who has been knitting like a fiend since the beginning of COVID protocols in March 2019. The repetitive motions of knitting plus her desk job have combined with her not feeling safe going to the gym. These factors have all resulted in CTS. Sometimes, when you are used to working your arms and shoulders, the lack of strength can cause pain and eventually issues like CTS.

It takes the right professional, but you can absolutely use massage therapy to overcome your carpal tunnel syndrome pain. If you are in Charlotte, NC: we have just the therapist for you.


Elliott, R., & Burkett, B. (2013). Massage therapy as an effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies17(3), 332-338.

Moraska, A., Chandler, C., Edmiston-Schaetzel, A., Franklin, G., Calenda, E. L., & Enebo, B. (2008). Comparison of a targeted and general massage protocol on strength, function, and symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized pilot study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine14(3), 259-267.

Wolny, T., Saulicz, E., Linek, P., Shacklock, M., & Myśliwiec, A. (2017). Efficacy of manual therapy including neurodynamic techniques for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics40(4), 263-272.

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