Massage therapy techniques for preventing injury in the massage profession, or any work where you use hands and wrists in repetitive motions, include self massage tools and strategies to avoid serious, long-term damage to the hands and muscles.
Giving massage is hard on your hands, arms, back and shoulders. Few massage therapists do only light techniques like energy work or facial massage.
Most practitioners combine light-touch therapy with many of the other deeper techniques to accommodate their clients.
As a result, most will experience some kind of injury or syndrome at some point in their professional career. Massage therapy techniques to avoid these injuries should be a priority.
The most common damage to therapists are either muscle injuries or nerve injuries. The primary cause is usually overuse, or using one or more parts of the body more than normal.
Injuries caused by overuse are often described as "repetitive stress injuries" or syndromes. The symptoms, causes and results can be confusing and hard to classify because they come and go.
Because massage (and many other professions) involves repetitive movements for long periods of time, little by little, tissue damage slowly occurs.
Symptoms include aches, muscles tightness, sharp pain in one or more location, decrease in function and/or numbness and tingling of the upper extremities.
Nerves can become compressed or pinched with overuse. Carpal tunnel syndrome and thoracic outlet syndrome are examples of overuse syndromes or repetitive stress injuries.
Impingement usually occurs at areas where nerves lie between bones and tendons/ligaments or fascia.
The three main nerves that affect massage therapists in the forearm are the median nerve, the ulnar nerve and the radial nerve. These three nerves can be pinched at the wrist, the elbow or the shoulder.
The two most common nerve injuries for massage therapists are carpal tunnel syndrome and thoracic outlet syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome has become a term that is often applied to any pain syndrome issues in the wrist area. However, CTS is impingement of the median nerve at the carpal tunnel.
The syndrome occurs when there is pressure on the median nerve within the space of the carpal tunnel, located between the carpal bones and the transverse carpal ligament of the wrist. This pressure limits the volume of nerve impulses that are able to travel to the hand. Sustained pressure on the nerve can damage the nerve tissue.
Symptoms of CTS include pain in the palm which radiates into the hand, thumb, or fingers, and/or numbness and tingling. It can be worse with a heavy massage work schedule and a change in the massage therapy techniques that you offer.
The brachial plexus is composed of branches of the spinal nerves C5-T1. It passes through the thorax, between the scalene muscles and continues through the space between the first rib and the clavicle. This area is called the thoracic outlet.
TOS is the impingement of nerves C8-T1 at the thoracic outlet, which can produce pain symptoms in the neck, shoulders, and all the way down the arm into the hands. Headaches are also common with this syndrome.
Sustained positions and poor posture with certain massage therapy techniques are the main causes of TOS. Prolonged positions can actually change the way hard structures of the thoracic outlet relate to each other, so much so that it can decrease the space in the outlet and impinge the brachial plexus.
Massage therapists often develop TOS from working in a posture where the head is projected forward and the shoulders are rounded inward.
Self Care and Preventing Injury
Self massage, as well as seeing a therapist on a regular basis yourself can help in your overall self care, unless the condition becomes chronic.
Without treatment, these injuries can lead to a partial or a total disability of the hands and/or arms. For this reason, it is very important to understand your injuries and get treatment for them.
Save Your Hands!: The Complete Guide to Injury Prevention and Ergonomics for Manual Therapists , gives students and practicing therapists medically-based information, tips, and suggestions on how to change the way you perform specific massage therapy techniques and prevent these injuries.
Commit to a long, healthy massage therapy career! This information helps you recognize, respond and treat potentially career changing injuries.
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