Area and shape changes of the carpal tunnel in response to tunnel pressure

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Carpal tunnel mechanics is relevant to our understanding of median nerve compression in the tunnel. The compliant characteristics of the tunnel strongly influence its mechanical environment. We investigated the distensibility of the carpal tunnel in response to tunnel pressure. A custom balloon device was designed to apply controlled pressure. Tunnel cross sections were obtained using magnetic resonance imaging to derive the relationship between carpal tunnel pressure and morphological parameters at the hook of hamate. The results showed that the cross-sectional area (CSA) at the level of the hook of hamate increased, on average, by 9.2% and 14.8% at 100 and 200 mmHg, respectively. The increased CSA was attained by a shape change of the cross section, displaying increased circularity. The increase in CSA was mainly attributable to the increase of area in the carpal arch region formed by the transverse carpal ligament. The narrowing of the carpal arch width was associated with an increase in the carpal arch. We concluded that the carpal tunnel is compliant to accommodate physiological variations of the carpal tunnel pressure, and that the increase in tunnel CSA is achieved by increasing the circularity of the cross section. © 2011 Orthopaedic Research Society Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Orthop Res 29:1951–1956, 2011

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