Risk Factors For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: They May Not Be What You Think

If you think carpal tunnel syndrome is only caused by repetitive tasks, think again.

A Brief History of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome As A Disorder

The first written description of median nerve compression, which is now commonly referred to as “carpal tunnel syndrome” (CTS) can be traced back to 1854.(1)  However, it was not until almost a century later, in the 1950s, that the term carpal tunnel syndrome began to take hold.  The first surgical treatment for CTS was performed in 1933, but until 1950, only twelve patients with operative release of the transverse carpal ligament for idiopathic carpal tunnel syndrome had been reported.(2)  Today, carpal tunnel release surgery has now become one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States.

Risk Factors For CTS

Although many people think of CTS as a repetitive injury, not only is that often not the suspected cause of CTS, but recent studies seem to show a stronger link between those who have other autoimmune disorders such as diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (a hypothyroidism disease), over activity of the pituitary gland, and rheumatoid arthritis and those afflicted with CTS. Women, especially pregnant women with edema, and women in menopause suffering from fluid retention, and overweight people are also known to have a higher risk of CTS than the general population.

It is also now widely believed that those most likely to be affected by the disorder have a congenital predisposition because the carpal tunnel is simply smaller in some people than in others, making them more susceptible to compression of the median nerve.

CTS rarely occurs in children, affects more people in the 30-60 age group, and women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.  It is also known that people who abuse alcohol have a higher risk of developing CTS than those who do not drink.(3)

Non-Disease Related And Mechanical Causes Of CTS

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the result of a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself. In cases involving bilateral CTS (both hands), the dominant hand usually is affected first and to a greater degree.

Other contributing factors include trauma or injury to the wrist that cause swelling:

  • Infections that cause swelling of the hand or wrist;
  • Sprain or fracture of the wrist;
  • Mechanical problems in the wrist joint;
  • Work stress;
  • Repeated use of vibrating hand tools;
  • Cyst or tumor in the canal.

According to the NIH, “There is little clinical data to prove whether repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and wrist during work or leisure activities can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.”  However, the NIH also notes that although the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome is not confined to people in a single industry or job, it is more commonly diagnosed among assembly line workers than among data-entry personnel.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome As A Disabling Condition

CTS may be considered a disability when it prevents someone for performing the major functions of their job or life activities.  In cases involving worker’s compensation claims, the injury or disorder must have been caused by conditions of performing work, or while on the job in order to receive benefits.  However, when filing a disability insurance claim, CTS generally only needs to be a condition that occurred while you were employed, and not necessarily because of the work you did.  For example, a wrist fracture from a car accident, or inflammation from a medical condition or other injury unrelated to your work that caused carpal tunnel that prevented you from continuing in your profession may entitle you to disability benefits if you have an own-occupation plan.

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If you have been diagnosed with disabling carpal tunnel syndrome and were wrongfully denied disability insurance benefits, don’t give up hope.  Call our law offices today for a free initial consultation.  If you are disabled, and unable to do your own-occupation because you have carpal tunnel syndrome will we work hard to help you get the benefits you deserve.

More Information

(1) Historical Review Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Carla Stecco – Robert Aldegheri
(2) The History Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Pub Med.Pfeffer GB, Gelberman RH, Boyes JH, Rydevik B.
(3) University of Maryland Medical Center – Carpal tunnel syndrome