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Genes and height linked to risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome

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Some people are more likely than others to develop carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), and new research sheds light on why that is.

Approximately one in 20 people in the UK will develop CTS at some point in their life. The painful condition of the hand is caused by pressure on a nerve in the wrist. It causes tingling, numbness and weakness of the hand, sometimes leading to severe loss of function.

Previous studies have shown that CTS — long associated with overuse of the hands and wrists — is more strongly linked to genetics than repetitive use.

Now, researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Tartu in Estonia have found further evidence that a person’s genetic make-up and height can influence whether they will develop the condition.

In the first ever genome-wide association study of CTS, published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers examined data from over 12,000 CTS patients from the UK Biobank.

They identified 16 specific locations in chromosomes associated with the condition, and a link between short stature and the risk of developing the condition.

Lead author Akira Wiberg, of the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS) at the University of Oxford, said: “Many people have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome, and it is popularly portrayed as a disease associated with hand overuse.

“While there is evidence that certain occupational factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing CTS, most people, including many doctors, are probably unaware that genetic risk factors are thought to be the most important determinants of who goes on to develop the disease. This study adds considerable weight to the genetic side of the story.”

As well as advancing the understanding of the biology of CTS, the study opens up several new avenues of research, including how to use genetics to predict individuals who are at increased risk of developing CTS.