What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a combination of health conditions and activities puts pressure on the median nerve. The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel in your wrist. This pressure leads to symptoms.
Anything that decreases the amount of space in the carpal tunnel or increases the amount of tissue in the tunnel can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. So can anything that makes the median nerve more sensitive.
Things that help cause carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Conditions or illnesses that can cause or contribute to arm pain or swelling in the joints and soft tissues in the arm, or to reduced blood flow to the hands. These include obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, diabetes, lupus, and hypothyroidism.
- Repeated hand and wrist movements. They can cause the membranes around the tendons to swell (tenosynovitis).
- Broken wrist bones, dislocated bones, new bone growth from healing bones, or bone spurs. These can take up space in the carpal tunnel and put more pressure on the median nerve.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common work-related condition. It can be caused by work that requires:
- Forceful or repetitive hand movements
- Hand-arm vibration
- Working for long periods in the same or awkward positions
Carpal tunnel syndrome is even more likely if you have these work-related issues along with other health conditions.
In some cases, the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome can't be found.
Preventing carpal tunnel syndrome
In daily routines at home or while doing hobbies, think about changing activities in which you make repeated finger, hand, or wrist movements. Train yourself to use other positions or techniques that won't stress your hand or wrist.
Take good care of your general health. This includes staying at a healthy weight, not smoking, and getting regular exercise. Restrict your salt intake if you tend to retain fluid.
Keep your arm, hand, and finger muscles strong and flexible. Keep your hands in a neutral position. For example, keep your wrists straight or only slightly bent. Avoid activities that bend or twist the wrists for long periods of time. Use hand and wrist movements that spread the pressure and motion evenly throughout your hand and wrist.
Take breaks, and rest your hands. Switch hands and change positions often when you are doing repeated motions. Stop any activity that you think may be causing finger, hand, or wrist numbness or pain.
Wear a wrist splint. A splint can keep your wrist in a neutral position—that is, not bent too far forward or back—and reduce the stress on your fingers, hand, or wrist. Wear a wrist splint when you cannot control your wrist motion, such as while sleeping.
If you feel that certain work activities are causing finger, hand, or wrist numbness or pain, talk to your human resources department. Ask about different ways of doing your job, changes in your equipment, other job assignments, or the possibility of an ergonomics evaluation of your work space and procedures.
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