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Anatomical Differences in the Shape of the Male and Female Carpal Tunnels

Peterson, Cathryn A. EdD1; Wacker, Charlotte A. MS2; Phelan, Tamara L. EdD1; Blume, Mandy K. BS3; Tucker, Richard P. PhD4

Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy: September/December 2013 - Volume 37 - Issue 3 - p 108–112
doi: 10.1097/JWH.0000000000000001
Research Reports

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between the dimensions of the carpal tunnel and sex.

Study Design: Basic science.

Background: Women have a higher incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome than men, and understanding anatomic factors that may predispose women to developing carpal tunnel syndrome may be informative clinically. Using ultrasound, others have shown that a “squarer” carpal tunnel is associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Methods and Measures: In this study, we measured cross-sectional area, width, and depth of the carpal tunnels from 8 female and 9 male cadavers in transverse sections made through the carpal tunnel.

Results: No significant differences were found between the age, weight, body mass index, or radius-derived stature of the female and male cadavers. The cross-sectional area of the female carpal tunnels (1.34 ± 0.16 cm2) was significantly less (P < 0.01) than the area of the male carpal tunnels (1.66 ± 0.21 cm2). The depth of the carpal tunnel was not significantly different between the sexes, but the average width of the female carpal tunnel (2.04 ± 0.14 cm) was significantly shorter (P < 0.01) than the average width of the male carpal tunnel (2.33 ± 0.15 cm).

Conclusions: The depth-to-width ratio of the carpal tunnel was significantly greater (P < 0.05) in the females (0.50 ± 0.07) than in the males (0.43 ± 0.07). Thus, the “squarer” carpal tunnels of females may contribute to the higher incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome in women.

1Department of Physical Therapy, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California.

2Body Donation Program, University of California at Davis.

3Anthropology Department, Sacramento State University, California.

4Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy, University of California at Davis.

The cadavers used in this study were provided by the University of California at Davis Body Donation Program, following university policies and procedures. The authors thank the donors to Body Donation Programs whose generous gifts made anatomical education and research possible.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2013 by the Section on Women's Health, American Physical Therapy Association.