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Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

You have a hand in protecting your wrist

Many studies have tried to pinpoint the activities that lead to carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which is diagnosed in about 2 percent of men and 3 percent of women. While some activities appear to be more problematic than others assembly line workers are three times more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome than data entry personnel the truth is that the individual may have as much to do with causing carpal tunnel syndrome as the activity.

Your individual type of carpal tunnel, your genetics, and your lifestyle can have a hand in the condition. Before seeking orthopedic treatment, make sure you’re doing what you can to prevent carpal tunnel or at least reduce your risks of getting it.

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is pinched as it enters the hand through the narrow carpal tunnel at the thumb side of the wrist and passes under the transverse carpal ligament at the wrist. Swelling can pinch the median nerve, causing numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain.

If you were born with a narrow carpal tunnel, the chances of pinching that median nerve as it goes through the tunnel are greater. That’s one reason why women are about three times more likely to suffer from carpal tunnel than men, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Women over 55 are even more susceptible. Women are also more likely than men to experience autoimmune disorders, which are linked to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Is your body putting you at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often caused by a combination of poor health conditions and harmful activities. Conditions that cause swelling are likely contributors to CTS.

Here are some factors to think about:

  • Obesity can reduce blood flow to the hand and cause swelling
  • Alcohol abuse often damages nerves and contributes to CTS when other risk factors are present
  • Smoking slows blood flow to the median nerve and inhibits CTS recovery
  • Infections can disrupt healthy blood flow to the nerves
  • Bone fractures can compress nerves
  • Older age children only rarely get carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders cause nerves to become more susceptible to compression
  • Lupus, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and hypothyroidism are linked to CTS
  • Being pregnant and post-delivery can cause fluid retention and swelling
  • During menopause and taking birth control or estrogen, hormonal changes increase CTS risk
  • Arthritis of the wrist often causes nerve compression
  • Wrist tumors or cysts fill the space near the median nerve, which can cause it to become pinched
  • Other illnesses and conditions that cause arm pain, joint swelling or reduced blood flow to the hands may also cause CTS.

Are your activities putting you at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome?

Work can often be monotonous, and if you’re doing repetitive tasks that cause the muscles and soft tissue of your hand to swell, it can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

On the other hand, doing a lot of fly fishing or driving a racecar can also bring on carpal tunnel syndrome.

Here are some activities that can be linked to carpal tunnel:

  • Using power tools that vibrate
  • Forceful or repetitive hand or wrist movements, particularly in a cold environment
  • Movements that concentrate pressure and motion at one part of the hand or wrist
  • Working with small instruments
  • Driving and clinching the wheel for long periods
  • Frequently playing a musical instrument
  • Computer and keyboard use (though evidence of a direct correlation is scant)

Meat, poultry and fish packing workers have the highest rates of carpal tunnel syndrome, up to 15 percent according to some studies. Automotive assembly line workers are close behind at 10 percent.

Intense sewing, needlepoint, cooking, and carpentry are carpal tunnel syndrome-related home activities.

How to prevent or treat carpal tunnel syndrome

No matter what causes carpal tunnel syndrome, there are good options to manage and cure it. Ergonomic changes, wrist splints and improving body motions can help, as can medications, physical therapy and surgery (should it be necessary). Be sure to talk to your pharmacist before purchasing anti-inflammatories as these medications may be contraindicated as they may interact with other medications and medical conditions.