We’ve been hearing about carpel tunnel syndrome since the late 1930s. Currently, carpel tunnel syndrome affects 5% of the population within the United States. While this condition is often discussed, many do not know exactly what it is and how it is different than other hand/wrist conditions – let alone causes, risk factors and treatment options.

Basic definition: carpel tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve running through the wrist is compressed or irritated.

Detailed explanation: the median nerve runs from your forearm through a passageway in your wrist, referred to as the carpal tunnel, to your hand. One of its functions is to generate nerve signals to move the muscles around the base of your thumb. Another is to provide the sensation to the palm side of your thumb and all fingers except the little finger.

Check out this overview of carpel tunnel syndrome – and some thoughts at the end about workplace impact on the condition and what condition you may have when it is NOT carpel tunnel syndrome.

carpel tunnel syndrome

*Workplace impact

There is an ongoing debate connecting carpel tunnel syndrome to repetitive work. Some speculate that repetitive motion work can create carpel tunnel syndrome. Others believe that reptitive work exacerbates it when the condition is already present due to other causes. Scientists believe it’s possible that working with vibrating tools, on an assembly line or even intense keyboard work – work that requires prolonged or repetitive flexing of the wrist – may create harmful pressure on the median nerve or worsen existing nerve damage. However, particularly with computer work, there hasn’t been enough consistent evidence to support a definitive claim.

This brings us to a final thought: what is it if it is NOT carpel tunnel syndrome?

RELATED: Workplace and Repetitive Injuries

Other hand/wrist conditions

Some folks have a pain in our wrist, fingers or hand…and automatically self-diagnose that it must be carpel tunnel syndrome. The reality is that carpel tunnel syndrome is a very specific set of conditions where the nerve is compressed – and this isn’t what’s happening with the majority of those with hand or wrist pain. It could be:

  • Arthritis – can cause stiffness, swelling and pain
  • Tendonitis – can cause pain but not numbness and tingling
  • A ganglion cyst – can also cause pain but again, not numbness or tingling

To get an accurate diagnosis – and rule out carpel tunnel syndrome – visit an orthopedist and share your symptoms.