Most people know the obvious health problems related to being overwieght or obese. But there are some lesser-known conditions linked to obesity that might surprise you.
At Steel City Spine and Orthopedic Center, board-certified spine and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jocelyn Idema talks about how carrying excess weight can affect your nerves — particularly the median nerve in your wrist — and how they have a cause-and-effect relationship. Here’s how carpal tunnel syndrome and obesity are connected.
Facts about carpal tunnel syndrome
Pressure on any nerve can cause pain, numbness, tingling, and loss of function. When something presses on the median nerve, which runs the length of your arm and into your hand, you have carpal tunnel syndrome, so named because the nerve travels through a muscle-and-ligament passageway called the carpal tunnel.
Inflammation is the main culprit behind carpal tunnel syndrome. As surrounding tissues swell, they compress the nerve, and voilà — carpal tunnel syndrome.
The most common cause of this inflammation in the wrist is repetitive motion. That’s why carpal tunnel syndrome is prevalent among office workers who type on a keyboard all day — especially those whose workstations aren’t ergonomically sound.
But you don’t have to type to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. Any motion you do over and over again can trigger inflammation, including sewing, cutting, playing a musical instrument, making jewelry, writing, drawing, and the like.
Extreme vibrations can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome, so people who operate jack hammers, chain saws, or any other mechanical tool that vibrates can develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
The link between carpal tunnel syndrome and obesity
Now that we’ve looked at the direct causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, let’s consider the outliers that contribute to the condition indirectly.
Certain factors can put you at a higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, including:
- Being pregnant
- High blood pressure
- Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Hypernatremia (high sodium in your blood)
Chief among these risk factors is obesity, because it’s the umbrella under which many of these other conditions fall.
Except for smoking and pregnancy, being overweight accounts for all the risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome, and pregnancy (although not strictly considered obesity) has the same effect as obesity.
Losing weight eliminates many of these risk factors and can reduce the inflammation on your median nerve.
However, before relying on a self-diagnosis and assuming your weight is the only factor related to your carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to get an expert diagnosis from a specialist like Dr. Idema. She assesses your nerve pain, determines the extent of damage, if any, and develops a customized treatment plan.
In many cases, avoiding repetitive motions and making a few lifestyle adjustments is all it takes to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Dr. Idema may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, bracing, steroid injections, or physical therapy to promote healing.
If surgery becomes necessary, your wrist is in good hands with Dr. Idema. She skillfully relieves the pressure on your median nerve by moving or removing whatever’s compressing it. She may need to cut or divide the ligament that forms the top of the carpal tunnel to make more room for the nerve to pass through unfettered.
To find out if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, and if so, what’s causing it and how to treat it, call or click online to schedule a consultation with Dr. Idema at Steel City Spine and Orthopedic Center today.