Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition of the hands and fingers that occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed at the wrist. The median nerve extends from the forearm to the palm of the hand and controls feeling in all fingers except the little finger, as well as the palm side of the thumb. The median nerve also controls muscles in the hand that enable movement in the fingers and thumb.
The carpal tunnel is a slender passageway at the base of the hand that is comprised of bones and ligament. Within the carpal tunnel is where the median nerve is located, along with tendons. Swelling caused by aggravated tendons, or other inflammation within the tunnel, can cause the median nerve to compress and carpal tunnel to occur.
There are a few different outstanding factors that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Some people have a hereditary predisposition in which their carpal tunnel is smaller than the average person’s, putting them more at risk for the condition. Trauma to the hand or wrist, such as a break or fracture, can cause swelling and contribute to carpal tunnel as well.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, some other factors that can contribute to developing carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- over activity of the pituitary gland;
- rheumatoid arthritis;
- mechanical problems in the wrist joint;
- work stress;
- repeated use of vibrating hand tools;
- fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause; or
- the development of a cyst or tumor in the canal.
According to Womenshealth.gov, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women are three times more at risk to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men. This may be due to the fact that women in general have a much more narrow carpal tunnel than men, which creates a more constricted area for nerves and tendons to pass through. Another possible factor is that women undergo extreme hormonal changes throughout pregnancy and menopause that make them more likely to develop carpal tunnel.
A few different approaches can be taken to help prevent developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Perform exercises after doing repetitive movements with your hand and wrist to help negate the effects of those actions.
- Relax your grip to help prevent habitual muscle tensing, which can lead to strained muscles and inflammation.
- Take consistent breaks and vary your hand movements to help lower your risk of swelling and irritation.
- Keep muscles warm to lower risk.
- Use good posture and wrist position while working.
Carpal tunnel syndrome has become increasingly more common in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3.1% of employed adults aged 18 to 64 had carpal tunnel syndrome in 2010, and the percentage increased with each age group.