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Risk Factors of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

All too often, patients with any type of hand discomfort either assume or are told it may be due to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. In most patients, however, this is not the case.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition that causes numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand. It is caused by a compressed nerve in the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway on the palm side of your wrist. Symptoms generally start gradually, often affecting the thumb, index and middle fingers. Sometimes there is a sensation like an electric shock in these fingers.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may also cause discomfort in your wrist and the palm of your hand with a sensation that travels up your arm. This sensation frequently wakes you from sleep. These symptoms can occur while doing everyday actions such as holding a steering wheel, phone or newspaper. Many people "shake out" their hands to try to relieve their symptoms which may become constant over time.

You may experience weakness in your hand and have a tendency to drop objects due to the numbness in your hand or weakness of the thumb's pinching muscles, which are also controlled by the median nerve.

A number of risk factors have been associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The anatomy of your wrist, age and health problems are the primary contributors to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Although these risk factors may not directly cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, they may increase your chances of developing or aggravating median nerve damage.

  • Anatomic factors. A wrist fracture or dislocation, or arthritis that deforms the small bones in the wrist, can alter the space within the carpal tunnel and put pressure on the median nerve. People with smaller carpal tunnels may be more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Gender. Carpal tunnel syndrome is generally more common in women. This may be because the carpal tunnel area is relatively smaller in women than in men.

  • Nerve-damaging conditions. Some chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, increase your risk of nerve damage, including damage to your median nerve.

  • Inflammatory conditions. Illnesses that are characterized by inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can affect the lining around the tendons in your wrist and put pressure on your median nerve.

  • Alterations in the balance of body fluids. Fluid retention may increase the pressure within your carpal tunnel, irritating the median nerve. This is common during pregnancy and menopause. Carpal tunnel syndrome associated with pregnancy generally resolves on its own after pregnancy.

  • Medical conditions. Certain conditions such as diabetes, obesity, thyroid disorders and kidney failure, may increase your chances of carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Workplace factors. Working with vibrating tools or on an assembly line that requires prolonged or repetitive gripping, grasping or flexing of the wrist may create harmful pressure on the median nerve or worsen existing nerve damage. Excessive computer as a cause of carpal tunnel syndrome has been and continues to be extensively studied and debated. While a consensus has not yet been reached, it is very unlikely that computer use or keyboarding is a primary cause and determining the role of ANY single activity in causing carpal tunnel syndrome is extremely difficult.

Fortunately, when diagnosed properly, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be managed very successfully by a Hand Surgeon, sometimes without surgery.

For more information or to request an appointment, please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at

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