Is Smoking Tied to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Could smoking increase your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome? Earlier studies have linked cigarette smoking with musculoskeletal problems like back pain and rheumatoid arthritis. However studies on the association between CTS and smoking have produced inconsistent results.

Researchers from the Finland sought to clarify that link by performing the first ever meta-analysis on the topic. They analyzed 13 studies that tested whether smoking elevated the risk carpal tunnel syndrome.

In five cross-section studies, current smokers were nearly twice as likely to suffer from CTS compared to non-smokers (OR 1.99). However previous smoking was not tied to an increased CTS risk. The additional six case-control studies and cohort studies did not show a significant link between smoking and CTS. The researchers suggested that these case-control studies may have underestimated an association since they used hospital-based cohorts, and smokers are not likely to seek hospital care for CTS.

These mixed results led researchers to conclude that there is not enough evidence yet to say that smoking is linked to CTS. They suggested need for additional case-control and cohort studies.

Although more research is needed, the authors speculated that a possible link between smoking and CTS may be because smoking could impair the vascular supply of the median nerve, making it more susceptible to physical workloads. Previous research has also found that smoking may also have toxic effects that cause peripheral neuropathy, or dysfunction of the peripheral nerves.

While scientists are still hashing out the link between CTS and smoking, it's clear that smoking cessation can have a number other health benefits like increasing longevity and reducing back pain.


Pourmemari MH, et al. Smoking and carpal tunnel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Muscle Nerve 2013; doi: 10.1002/mus.23922.