Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ

Question:

I can't believe how many people I know (including myself) have carpal tunnel syndrome. Is this an epidemic or what?

Answer:

Studies of the general population report as many as 15 per cent of adults have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). If you are comparing yourself to other patients in a hand surgeon's office, then the number of people with this condition is much higher -- more like 70 per cent. That makes sense since those patients have a common problem treated by a single individual (the surgeon). These figures don't put carpal tunnel syndrome in a category of epidemic, but they do reflect a possible increase in the number of people affected. This syndrome has received a lot of attention in recent years because of suggestions that it may be linked with occupations that require repeated use of the hands, such as typing on a computer keyboard or doing assembly work. Actually, many people develop this condition regardless of the type of work they do. Any condition that causes abnormal pressure in the tunnel can produce symptoms of CTS. Various types of arthritis can cause swelling and pressure in the carpal tunnel. Fractured wrist bones may later cause CTS if the healed fragments result in abnormal irritation on the flexor tendons. Other conditions in the body can produce symptoms of CTS. Pregnancy can cause fluid to be retained, leading to extra pressure in the carpal tunnel. Diabetics may report symptoms of CTS, which may be from a problem in the nerve (called neuropathy) or from actual pressure on the median nerve. People with low thyroid function (called hypothyroidism) are more prone to problems of CTS. The way people do their tasks can put them at more risk for problems of CTS. Some of these risks include force, posture, wrist alignment, repetitive motions, temperature (usually prolonged exposure to cold), and vibration. One of these risks alone may not cause a problem. But doing a task that involves several factors may pose a greater risk. And the longer a person is exposed to one or more risks, the greater the possibility of having a problem with CTS. However, scientists believe that other factors such as smoking, obesity, and caffeine intake may actually be more important in determining whether a person is more likely to develop CTS. Christine J. Cheng, MD, MPH, et al. Scratch Collapse Test for Evaluation of Carpal and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. November 2008. Vol. 33A. No. 9. Pp. 1518-1524.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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