Objective: Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a major, costly public health issue that could be dramatically affected by the identification of additional conservative care treatment options. Our study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of two distinct massage therapy protocols on strength, function, and symptoms associated with CTS.
Design: This was a randomized pilot study design with double pre-tests and subjects blinded to treatment group assignment.
Setting/location: The setting for this study was a wellness clinic at a teaching institution in the United States.
Subjects: Twenty-seven (27) subjects with a clinical diagnosis of CTS were included in the study.
Interventions: Subjects were randomly assigned to receive 6 weeks of twice-weekly massage consisting of either a general (GM) or CTS-targeted (TM) massage treatment program.
Outcome measures: Dependent variables included hand grip and key pinch dynamometers, Levine Symptom and Function evaluations, and the Grooved Pegboard test. Evaluations were conducted twice during baseline, 2 days after the 7th and 11th massages, and at a follow-up visit 4 weeks after the 12th massage treatment.
Results: A main effect of time was noted on all outcome measures across the study time frame (p < 0.001); improvements persist at least 4 weeks post-treatment. Comparatively, TM resulted in greater gains in grip strength than GM (p = 0.04), with a 17.3% increase over baseline (p < 0.001), but only a 4.8% gain for the GM group (p = 0.21). Significant improvement in grip strength was observed following the 7th massage. No other comparisons between treatment groups attained statistical significance.
Conclusions: Both GM and TM treatments resulted in an improvement of subjective measures associated with CTS, but improvement in grip strength was only detected with the TM protocol. Massage therapy may be a practical conservative intervention for compression neuropathies, such as CTS, although additional research is needed.