, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 127-134
Date: 02 May 2007

Epidemiologic Associations of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Sleep Position: Is There a Case for Causation?

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Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is thought to be due to compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. It is known that carpal tunnel pressures are elevated in wrist postures of flexion and extension and in those patients with CTS. Classic symptoms of CTS include night waking with pain, tingling, and numbness. These classic symptoms stimulated our interest in the relationship of sleep to the development of CTS.


We reviewed the literature surrounding the epidemiology of CTS and the literature regarding sleep disturbances. Through careful distillation of these studies and a process of reasoning, we have developed a hypothesis for a causal mechanism of CTS.


Epidemiologically, it has been shown that CTS is associated with age, gender, increased body mass index (BMI), diabetes, pregnancy, and is more common in some populations. The same associations noted above for CTS are strongly associated with sleep disturbances. Sleep disturbances due to age, gender, BMI, pregnancy, and population variations are all associated with sleeping in the lateral position supporting the hypothesis that a common causative mechanism of CTS is sleeping in a lateral position.


We believe that the epidemiologic associations with CTS act through a common causative mechanism, increased sleeping in the lateral position which puts the wrist at increased risk of flexion or extension, compressing the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. This hypothesis is simple and explains the connection between a previously unconnected group of epidemiologic associations. This realization has real clinical significance in that it focuses our attention on the early disorder when it is completely reversible. It clarifies previously confused clinical circumstances, creates research questions that can be tested, and it invites us to change our clinical perspective in this most common form of nerve compression.