Injuries among massage therapists fall into two main categories: overuse or misuse. Tendon injuries are harder to heal, partly because blood flow to tendons is limited and “inflammation takes longer to calm down,” he says. The most common hand and wrist injuries in the field include:
Commonly referred to as DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis, this involves inflammation of the lining of the sheath covering tendons. It can happen in any joint, but most often affects the wrists and hands, resulting from strain and overuse. Symptoms include swelling, pain, redness, and difficulty moving the affected joint. “Prevention is always best, and the nutrition part of that is getting enough omegas and oils,” Price says. “Warming up [before client work] is also important. The body is like a hydraulic system . . . and with the synovial joints, if we move around, with a three-quarter range of motion, it bathes the joints with fluid so the joints aren’t irritated when the tendon moves across it."
Saddle Joint Injury
The thumb’s basal, or CMC, the joint is saddle-shaped, formed by the trapezium in the wrist and the metacarpal in the thumb. This distinctive shape enables the thumb to rotate up, down and across the palm, and to pinch. Saddle joint injury can present with throbbing pain or a dull ache, Price says, and treatment involves resting it and using anti-inflammatory medications both topically and orally. “If a therapist is gliding with their hand and their thumb goes out to the side and pulls back away from the rest of the hand, having the joint in that extreme position puts a lot of strain on it,” he says.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
One of the most prevalent injuries suffered by massage therapists, CTS results from the median nerve becoming compressed at the wrist. Since the median nerve provides feeling to the palm side of the thumb and also the index, middle and part of the ring finger, this compression can cause burning, tingling, itching, pain and/or numbness in most of the hand. Symptoms often appear during the night since many people sleep with flexed wrists. Decreased grip strength results, posing major difficulties for massage therapists while working on clients.
“The position of the hands is key. A lot of massage therapists put their palm down and use too much pressure at the wrist/palm area, and ride that pressure to get greater weight on a muscle,” says Glen Kemp, a massage therapist in Tampa, Florida. “When you impinge on that area, you’re creating a situation that almost guarantees inflammation.” Treatments include splinting, avoiding symptom-provoking movements, medications, and surgery.
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