The Link Between Fluid Retention and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Are some of your fingers going numb after a day on the keyboard or working construction? Perhaps you’ve developed pain in your wrist. Day after day, it seems to be getting worse. You could have carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Our board-certified orthopaedic surgeons at San Diego Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center treat many cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, restoring patients’ use of their hands and arms. 

What is the biomechanical reason for carpal tunnel syndrome? 

The pain and/or numbness and tingling you’re feeling is caused by a nerve in your arm that’s being compressed. Your median nerve travels down your upper arm and forearm into your hand. The nerve controls sensation in your thumb and first three fingers as well as the muscles at the base of your thumb. It must pass through a small opening, called the carpal tunnel, when it gets to your wrist. 

If you have swelling in your body because of a medical condition like pulmonary edema or from a job that involves standing all day, your body is retaining fluid. The tendons in your wrist and arm can swell also, resulting in compression of the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in your wrist. The compression causes your carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. 

Why do I have carpal tunnel syndrome? 

Carpal tunnel syndrome has numerous causes.  

Fluid retention

If your body is retaining too much fluid, your tendons may swell and put pressure on your carpal tunnel. Fluid retention is a side effect of certain medications such as antidepressants, blood pressure medication, and chemotherapy. 

Another reason for fluid retention: Your diet may contain too much sodium from processed foods; too much salt causes fluid retention. Obesity is associated with fluid retention because of increased ingestion of food that contains high sodium levels. 

Women’s fluctuating hormone levels can also contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome. Increased estrogen causes fluid retention before some women’s menstrual periods. 

Pregnancy increases the risk of the condition because of increased fluid retention. Women have three times the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome than do men. 

A robust study of pregnant women in the Netherlands found that more than one-third of the women developed carpal tunnel syndrome during their pregnancies. The cases spiked and the women reported more symptoms after 32 weeks, when increased fluid outside of the blood vessels leads to more weight gain. Tingling in the hands and wrists made sleeping difficult. 

Repetitive wrist motion

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often associated with repetitive motions of the wrist, fingers, and arms that eventually cause swelling and pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the wrist. If you’re working on the computer most of the day, you could be overextending your wrist if you’re not ergonomically positioned. Assembly line jobs and construction jobs where you use repetitive wrist motions place you at increased risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Medical conditions

A number of medical conditions are associated with carpal tunnel syndrome: thyroid disorder, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome 

If your condition is caused by fluid retention, treatment of an underlying condition could ease the symptoms, as could altering your diet if the problem is too much sodium. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, it should abate after you deliver. 

If the condition is associated with repetitive wrist motion, you’ll need to find ways to rest your wrist. Ice and over-the-counter pain medication can help. Your physician can provide or recommend a wrist splint to wear at night that can help ease your symptoms. A steroid shot can calm inflammation. 

If the condition is severe, our orthopaedic surgeons release the carpal tunnel during a minor surgery to ease pressure on the nerve. Afterward, you’ll receive physical therapy for your hand and wrist to regain your range of motion. 

Call San Diego Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center or book an appointment through our online portal for treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome and all of your orthopaedic needs.  

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