Can Exercising Cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, additionally known for its abbreviation of CTS, is an affliction that causes arm pain and grip weakness. If we simplify its cause as much as possible, we can claim that a pinched nerve near the wrist is what’s behind it. That is the reason why many believe that straining the wrist via particular training methods can cause the condition. To estimate whether this is true or not, we’d need to take a deeper dive into the anatomy behind CTS.

Running down the wrist and into each of our fingers are nine tendons. You can see them by clenching your fist and moving it backward. The tendons create a U shape in the wrist, which, together with the bone underneath, form the carpal tunnel.

Alejandro Badia, M.D., explains that the median nerve, extending from your forearm to your thumb and most other fingers, is located inside the tunnel. A lining, named the tenosynovium, surrounds the tendons; if it swells, the tube gets tighter and can pressurize the median nerve. That is when CTS occurs.

Holly Herman, D.P.T., explains some of the symptoms victims of CTS may feel, together with the reasons they do. Due to the position of the ailment, those inflicted can feel their hand go numb or tingle. Soreness, aching, and loss of grip strength of that hand are also common symptoms.

As with any condition, CTS can affect patients more or less severely. Some report consistent thumb, index, and middle finger pain. Others will say they feel excruciating pain, almost as if parts of their hand were going to explode. Waking up at night because of a “pins and needles” feeling or your hand going numb isn’t at all uncommon with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

People experiencing any of the symptoms should, without any doubt, see a doctor. However, our goal is to figure out whether the condition can be caused by exercise; to do that, let’s look at the causes of CTS.

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The primary source of CTS is anything that makes the tenosynovium, or body in general, retain water or bloat up. In the cases above, the tunnel will shrink, the median nerve will get pressed, and CTS will occur.

Dr. Badia claims that the main factor that puts you at risk is, unfortunately, your sex. Namely, females and males are affected disproportionately, meaning that women are three times more likely to develop the condition. That statistic was officially given by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The drastic difference is the result of the disparity of hormones between the sexes. Women, naturally, have more estrogen, which is more likely to make your body retain water. With more water kept, the bodies of women are more susceptible to swelling, which tightens the carpal tunnel and leads to CTS.

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 

Women are especially vulnerable during periods when their estrogen rises to abnormal levels, such as menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.

But the condition can’t wholly be blamed on estrogen. In fact, any affliction that makes the body retain liquids or results in weight gain can make the body prone to CTS. There are many culprits, and autoimmune illnesses, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and above-average blood pressure are just some of them.

Hand injuries, logically, can also put people at increased risk of CTS. Among these, wrist fractures are the most dangerous, as they are closest to the place where Carpal Tunnel Syndrome forms.

Does Working Out Cause CTS?

Working out, as long as there is no injury, doesn’t cause CTS. However, there is one vital caveat — if you’re already affected by CTS or have predispositions for it, exercise programs that strain your wrist can help accelerate the symptom’s progression. If you’ve already developed the syndrome but want to keep your physical shape as it is, make sure to avoid push-ups and similar exercises.

Any doctor will recommend you cut down on exercise that bends your wrist backward. Cyclists, for example, also often have CTS issues due to most bending their palms backward when riding. The good news for them is that they don’t have to give up on the sport because of CTS. A workaround is fixating their arms so that their hands are locked in a neutral position.

How to Recognize CTS in Yourself

As with any condition, when experiencing any of the symptoms, the safest thing to do is visit a doctor without hesitation. Sometimes, though, that’s not an option for a variety of reasons. That is why multiple ways of examining yourself have been devised by doctors. Be aware that these aren’t nearly as accurate as visiting your local clinic.

Tinel’s test suggests you tap on a specific area of your wrist. It’s much easier to spot if you watch a video, as the only way to explain it in writing is that it’s on the inner side, near the base of the thumb. Those that feel a sharp pain in their hand might be suffering from CTS.

How to Recognize CTS in Yourself

Phalen’s test is different and much less complex to explain. Namely, what you need to do is put the back sides of your palms together and point them both directly downwards. The test should last 90 seconds, and if the sensation transforms during this time, you might be afflicted.

If you are capable of going to see a professional and decide to do so, they’ll nearly certainly go through with an electromyography test, known as an EMG. Electrodes will be placed on your forearms and fingers, and the conduction of your nerves will be tested. This method is much more precise than the other two. If the median nerve is compressed, the conduction will clearly be lowered.

CTS Treatment

There’s a multitude of methods of CTS treatment, but which should be applied depends on how far the condition has progressed and the nature of the affliction. Clearly, those who get CTS because of another disease should cater to that disease first. For those who don’t, there’s a variety of surgical and non-surgical procedures they can undertake.

In the early stages, an excellent solution to CTS is wearing a brace, which will help lessen the symptoms by maintaining the hand in a non-damaging position. On the same note, reducing inflammation by applying ice packs or ointments may be effective. Some vitamins, like vitamin B, can also keep CTS from getting out of control.

If the syndrome has already advanced to the later stages, surgery or cortisone injections might help. Cortisone is a steroid that helps lessen inflammation, and when injected near the median nerve, it can ease its compression. That can completely neutralize the condition in less advanced cases and help ease the pain for a period of time if it’s more severe.

If the required way to act is surgery, open and endoscopic options are available. Research shows that the endoscopic method leads to rapid recovery and return of grip strength. Either way, the operation is routine and fast, so there’s no need to worry if that’s what you need.