Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) can affect anyone, but some people are more likely to have the condition than others, due to factors that increase the risk of CTS, including genetics.

CTS is the most prevalent nerve entrapment neuropathy, making up 90% of all neuropathies. It can cause symptoms that include pins and needles, numbness, and pain. People with CTS may experience difficulty performing daily tasks, such as typing.

This article explores the roles of genes and heredity in carpal tunnel syndrome, what research suggests, and treatment options.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway where the small finger muscle tendons and the median nerve pass through.

CTS happens when there is increased pressure in the carpal tunnel, putting stress on the median nerve. It may cause pain, numbness, and pins and needles in the hands.

According to research from 2011, around 3–6% of Americans get CTS every year. It is 10 times more common in women than in men. The risk of getting it increases with age and is most common in individuals ages 40–60 years old.

People often use the terms “genetic” and “hereditary” interchangeably, but they mean different things. To say that a condition is genetic means that it results from a gene mutation.

On the other hand, a condition is hereditary if a parent passes a genetic mutation to their child.

CTS is a complex disease where both genetic and environmental factors can cause it.

Occupations and lifestyle factors can cause CTS in the dominant hand, such as repetitive hand use at work. But CTS in both hands and in twins is also common. This suggests that genetic factors may influence a person’s likelihood of getting CTS.

A 2020 study found two genetic mutations in cartilage oligomeric matrix protein play a role in the development of CTS, and that people with short statures are at a higher risk of the disease.

A 2020 Swedish study also found a rare nerve growth factor mutation that puts an individual at a 10–25 times higher risk of having CTS than the general population.

Extensive population studies have found that CTS runs in families in 17–39% of cases and also occurs in genetic, inherited conditions such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

Many inherited characteristics can predispose a person to have CTS, including:

  • short stature
  • smaller carpal tunnels
  • thick transverse ligament
  • square wrist

Several conditions associated with CTS also tend to run in families, including thyroid disease and diabetes.

CTS can develop for many reasons. Generally, any condition that puts pressure on the median nerve in the carpal tunnel can lead to CTS.

Repetitive and excessive use of fingers, exposure to vibration, and prolonged use of the wrist in awkward positions can irritate or inflame the tendons of the fingers. This can narrow the tunnel and pinch the median nerve.

Conditions that cause inflammation, swelling, or blood flow obstruction to the wrist area can also lead to CTS. These include:

According to a 2021 study, obesity and diabetes are independent risk factors of CTS. Nutritional deficiencies, neuropathies, and toxins may also affect the median nerve, causing CTS.

Vitamin D deficiency is an independent risk factor of CTS. A 2021 study found that vitamin D3 supplementation reduces pain and eases symptoms in people with CTS and vitamin D deficiency.

People who are female, of older age, with a family history of CTS, and have conditions linked to CTS are more likely to have the condition.

People whose jobs or social activities involve repetitive hand movements are more likely to develop CTS.

Certain lifestyle factors also put a person at a greater chance of getting CTS:

The treatment for CTS varies depending on how mild or severe the symptoms are.

Doctors may recommend lifestyle changes to ease symptoms, such as improving diet, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, and quitting smoking.

A person with mild to moderate CTS may wish to try:

  • taking pain relievers
  • doing tendon gliding exercises
  • performing stretching and strengthening exercises for the hand
  • wearing splints at night

Learn how to do hand exercises for the carpal tunnel here.

Doctors can also give steroid injections for rapid relief of symptoms. Injections provide a superior level of effectiveness at 6 weeks compared with night splints. A 2021 study also found that injections can delay a person’s need for surgery.

Doctors may advise people to undergo surgery if their symptoms do not ease with conventional treatments.

Carpal tunnel release involves cutting part of the transverse ligament to reduce the pressure on the median nerve.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a complex disease that can result from various factors, including genetic and environmental factors.

Genetic mutations play a role in the development of the condition. Aside from this, certain hereditary characteristics and medical conditions can also predispose a person to have CTS.