According to the New York Times, women are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in their lifetime than men. This isn’t necessarily because women are more exposed to repetitive physical stress, but instead seems to be related to some of the physiological differences between men and women.
1. Hormonal Changes
Hormonal changes, particularly during pregnancy, cause an increase of fluid throughout the body to better nurture both mother and baby. With this fluid accumulation comes a higher risk of developing CTS, as the swelling can be present through the already narrow carpal tunnel area, which then puts pressure on the median nerve. For many women, carpal tunnel treatment is only needed in the end stages of pregnancy, and the symptoms of CTS naturally resolve after childbirth.
2. Autoimmune Disorders
Women carry a higher risk of developing autoimmune disorders than men, and the University of Maryland reports a link between CTS and autoimmune disorders. When the body’s immune system begins attacking its own tissues as if they were intruders, the result is widespread pain and inflammation, including in the carpal tunnel. Some researchers believe that CTS may itself be an early indicator of autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
3. Smaller Carpal Tunnel
Women on the whole have narrower wrists than men, which means that the carpal tunnel itself is also smaller in women. However, the size of the median nerve may not be significantly different. This means that even a minor amount of inflammation can put pressure on the median nerve in women, while men often require a more significant level of swelling before symptoms become noticeable enough to seek help from a hand and wrist surgeon.