Carpal tunnel syndrome may be caused by repeated or sustained elevated carpal tunnel pressure. This study examined the relationship between carpal tunnel pressure, posture, and fingertip load. In 20 healthy individuals, carpal tunnel pressure was measured with a catheter inserted into the carpal tunnel of the dominant hand and connected to a pressure transducer. With the wrist in a pressure-neutral position, the subjects pressed on a force transducer with the index finger to levels of 0, 5, 10, and 15 N. They then pinched the transducer at the same levels of force. For both fingertip-loading postures, the carpal tunnel pressure increased with increasing fingertip load. Carpal tunnel pressures were significantly greater (p < 0.015) for the pinching task (14.2, 29.9, 41.9, and 49.7 mm Hg [1.89, 3.99, 5.59, and 6.63 kPa] for 0, 5, 10, and 15 N force levels, respectively) than for simple finger pressing (7.8, 14.1, 20.0, and 33.8 mm Hg [1.04, 1.88, 2.67, and 4.51 kPa]). This study indicates that although the external load on the finger remained constant between the two tasks, the internal loading, as measured by carpal tunnel pressure, experienced a near 2-fold increase by using a pinch grip. These findings should be given consideration in designing work tasks and tools because relatively low fingertip forces, especially in a pinch grip, elevate carpal tunnel pressures to levels that, if prolonged, may lead to the development or exacerbation of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Division of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, Richmond, California