Any adult can develop carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), but reported cases for women are 3 times higher than the rate for men. CTS is one of the most common work-related disorders, affecting 4 to 10 million Americans every year.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
CTS is a musculoskeletal disorder caused by a pinched median nerve in the carpal tunnel – a passageway on the underside of the wrist. The median nerve runs the length of the arm and controls several small muscles around the base of the thumb and touch sensations of the fingers, except the little one.
When the carpal tunnel collapses or narrows, it squeezes the median nerve, cutting off its blood flow and reducing its functionality. If left untreated, this condition can lead to permanent muscle and nerve damage over time. Some of the early reported signs of carpal tunnel syndrome include pain, itching, tingling, numbness, and frequent burning. As the condition worsens, the sufferer may experience grip weakness, more pain and tingling, occasional shock-like sensation, dropping things, and the inability to distinguish cold from hot objects.
Why Women Are at a Greater Risk of Developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) workers’ compensation claims reported between 2007 and 2014 show that women are more likely to develop CTS. To begin with, the average woman has a narrower carpal tunnel than the average man. Also, pregnancy and menopause increase the susceptibility to CTS because of hormonal changes and fluid retention. Swelling can reduce the space in the carpal tunnel and irritate the median nerve.
Thyroid conditions and autoimmune disorders can also increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to develop a thyroid disorder during their lifetimes. An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, may be attributed to the production of too little hormones or the deposition of mucinous material, which can damage the median nerve. CTS can also be caused by swelling of the synovial membrane around the carpal tunnel.
Occupational Factors of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often caused by a combination of factors rather than a problem with the median nerve itself. Certain work-related tasks that result in CTS include:
- Repetitive hand motions
- Mechanical stress on the palm
- Strong gripping
- Awkward hand positions
Some of the industries with the highest rates of CTS include office and administration support, wired and wireless communications, grocery stores, fabric finishing, textile, coating mills, slaughtering and processing, apparel manufacturing, material moving, and employment services. Workers who perform these duties for long hours without sufficient break or rest are at higher risks of CTS.
Prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome may involve implementing intervention measures, including redesigning tools and workstations and educating workers.