Women are three times more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome than men. While some women find their condition is easily managed with self-care measures, others experience pain that makes it hard to work, care for their family, and enjoy their daily activities.
Understanding How Anatomic Differences Affect Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve, which runs from your forearm to your hand through a passageway in the wrist that is known as the carpal tunnel. The median nerve provides sensation and motor function to the fingers. When the nerve is squeezed or irritated, it can lead to the tingling, burning, numbness, and weakness that we associate with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Compared to men, women have a relatively smaller carpal tunnel. Additionally, women who are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome tend to have smaller carpal tunnels than women who don't have the condition. Because of this, there is a strong genetic component to carpal tunnel syndrome. If your mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, or another female blood relative has been treated for carpal tunnel syndrome, this makes it more likely that you will experience symptoms.
Other Factors That Can Lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
In addition to general anatomic differences, other factors that can increase carpal tunnel syndrome risk include:
- Thyroid conditions. An underactive thyroid, which affects about 12% of women during their lifetimes, can increase the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Women are between five and eight times more likely than men to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition.
- Obesity. Women are about 5% more likely than men to be obese, which increases a person's risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Women who struggle with their weight and have a generally sedentary lifestyle are more likely to experience ongoing carpal tunnel syndrome pain than those who are more physically active.
- Pregnancy. Swelling affects the entire body during pregnancy, including the carpal tunnel in the wrist. Pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome may resolve itself after delivery, but some women continue to have painful symptoms.
- Menopause. Decreased progesterone levels can cause problems with fluid retention in menopause, which can cause carpal tunnel symptoms similar to those experienced during pregnancy. It appears that women have the highest risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome between the ages of 45 and 54, and the hormonal changes associated with menopause are thought to play a key role in this.
- Breast cancer. Lymphedema, a build-up of fluids that exceeds the lymph system's drainage ability, can cause swelling after a mastectomy. This can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Occupation choice. Repetitive motion doesn't cause carpal tunnel syndrome, but many women have jobs involving typing or other fine motor skills. This can exacerbate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, secretaries and hairstylists seek treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome at high rates, and both of these occupations are dominated by women.
Although it's helpful to understand what factors can increase your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, keep in mind that doctors don't always know what causes the condition. Some women have a combination of risk factors, but others find the cause of their carpal tunnel syndrome is unknown.
Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel
Wearing wrist braces, stretching, taking frequent rest breaks, and using over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage mild carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Rest, as well as splinting the wrist in a neutral position along with hand therapy with nerve gliding exercises and injections may also be effective. However, if you are finding these conservative approaches to be insufficient in relieving your pain, your doctor may suggest you consider surgical treatment.
Contact Our Office Today for Carpal Tunnel Treatment
Contact our Towson office to learn how Dr. Eric H. Williams can help you quickly and effectively eliminate carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.