Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a disorder caused by compression of the median nerve that alters the nerve’s function (neuropathy), leading to pain and numbness/tingling (paresthesia) primarily on the palm-side of the wrist and hand. While factors like hormonal changes and repetitive motions are known to increase the risk for CTS, there might be a genetic component to the condition.
It’s known that conditions that can elevate the risk for CTS—like diabetes, thyroid disease, rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, and obesity—can run in families. Additionally, the data show that having a family member with CTS raises the risk that you too can develop the condition, but it’s not entirely clear to what extent genetic traits are responsible versus shared environmental factors among family members.
In 2007, at the 74th Annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in San Diego, Harvard professor Dr. David Ring and colleagues presented their evaluation of 117 previously published studies to determine the strength of a “cause-and-effect” relationship for CTS using a scoring system that included both biological and occupational factors. Their analysis revealed that genetic risk factors were two times stronger than the evidence supporting occupational risk factors, such as overuse.
Dr. Barry Simmons, chief of the Hand and Upper Extremity Service at Brigham & Women’s Hospital reported that 75-80% of CTS found in women age 50-55 is idiopathic, or of unknown cause, further supporting genetics as the primary factor. Dr. Ring states, though the evidence suggests genetics are a risk factor for CTS, there may be epigenetic factors or environmental changes to genes based on certain foods eaten or certain activities might increase a person’s risk beyond their genetic makeup. As of 2015, no epigenetic factors have been identified in idiopathic CTS.
The good news is that even if you have a family history of carpal tunnel syndrome, you can reduce your risk for developing CTS by managing any conditions or activities that can contribute to inflammation along the course of the median nerve. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, eating a low-inflammation diet, getting regular exercise, taking frequent breaks from repetitive tasks involving the hand, reducing exposure to awkward hand postures and vibratory forces, etc. If you are experiencing CTS-related symptoms in the hand and wrist, a thorough examination by a doctor of chiropractic can help identify potential causes and help you manage the condition so you can return to your normal activities as soon as possible.