According to the results of a new study presented at the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a person’s genetics plays a larger role than hand use in whether or not they will develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
“The link between carpal tunnel syndrome and hand use is overstated and may be inaccurate,” says study researcher David Ring. “The scientific support for the concept [that carpal tunnel is caused by overuse] is, on average, relatively weak,” he says. “The major risk factor for carpal tunnel is genetic.”
The study aggregated the results of over a hundred existing published studies on carpal tunnel syndrome, looking for the factors that related to a person developing CTS. In the end, they found that biological factors, such as genetics, age and race, had a much stronger relationship than did occupational factors, such as repetitive hand use or the type of work someone did.
The precise genetic factors that relate to CTS are not yet know, but are suspected to be related to the structure of the hand and wrists.
Dr. Roy G. Kulick, chief of hand surgery in the department of orthopedics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, summarized the results by saying that although the general public has always believed that people who use their hands more intensely are more likely to suffer carpal tunnel syndrome, that’s never really been the case. “Construction workers don’t get it any more frequently. The smaller community of court reporters who don’t stop all day for hours and hours, they don’t really develop it any more than anyone else.”
In other words, Dr. Ring says. “If you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel, you are an innocent bystander. You did nothing to cause it. This should give reassurance to those who use their hands a lot.”