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Condition. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

By Editorial Team (Y)
November 27, 2021

What does carpal tunnel syndrome mean?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that results from a compressed or pinched nerve in the wrist. It causes numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and arm and can also be accompanied by other symptoms. A variety of factors contribute to carpal tunnel syndromes development. Such factors include the structure of your wrist, other health problems, and even your occupation and hobbies can place you at higher risk for developing the condition. 

The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel or tunnel located inside of your wrist. This tunnel serves as protection for a major nerve and several tendons that are responsible for bending your fingers. When this nerve is pinched or compressed, symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome develop numbness and tingling. Eventually, the hand becomes weak and can, over time, lose its strength and ability to function. 

Medical treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is often effective. The symptoms are usually relieved, and function is restored. 

Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome develops as a result of the median nerve being pinched or compressed. This nerve controls the movement in your thumb and also provides feeling to all of your fingers other than the little finger and your thumb. The median nerve travels from your forearm into your hand through a tunnel in the wrist called the carpal tunnel.

Sometimes, no one cause of carpal tunnel syndrome can be identified. Other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or a fractured wrist cause swelling and narrowing of the tunnel. So can repetitive movement over time. Anything that squeezes the median nerve or irritates it as it runs through the carpal tunnel can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome risks

There are certain factors associated with carpal tunnel syndrome risks. By themselves, these factors do not cause the condition, but they may increase your chance of damaging the median nerve. These factors include:

  • Structural or anatomical conditions: A history of a fractured or dislocated wrist that narrows the space inside the carpal tunnel can cause increased pressure on the median nerve.  Some people naturally have smaller carpal tunnels and may be more prone to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Gender: Women, in general, have smaller carpal tunnels, making them more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, and women who do develop the condition may have smaller carpal tunnels than women who do not develop median nerve compression.
  • Other medical conditions: Some other conditions increase the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. These include:
    • Diabetes: Diabetes increases the risk of nerve damage. This includes median nerve damage.
    • Chronic inflammatory diseases: Illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis characterized by swelling can cause increased pressure on the median nerve.
    • Other medical conditions: Thyroid dysfunction, kidney failure, and obesity can increase your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Altered bodily fluids: Swelling or fluid retention can increase the pressure inside the carpal tunnel that irritates the median nerve. Swelling is common during pregnancy, but carpal tunnel syndrome that occurs during pregnancy typically resolves without treatment following the pregnancy.
  • Repetitive motion or vibration: Jobs that require prolonged or repeated flexing of the wrist or work with vibrating hand tools, such as work on an assembly line, may cause irritation of the median nerve. Scientific data is not conclusive regarding these factors, and they have not been established as a direct cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Studies have explored whether there is a link between using a computer keyboard and carpal tunnel syndrome. While there is not enough evidence to establish that extensive computer keyboarding is a risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome, it may contribute to a different kind of hand pain.

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