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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Computer Use

Does computer use increase one's chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome? If you do a "search" on the internet, you can find several stories that say no, and just as many that say yes... sometimes even from the same source!

While there are still some conflicting beliefs on how the use of computers affects a person's chance of getting carpal tunnel syndrome, the injury seems to be more prevalent than ever before.

There is a general belief that working for extended periods of time using a computer will lead to an increase in carpal tunnel syndrome, and that jobs such as data entry lead to higher risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Since carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by constant repetitive or static motion of the hands and wrists, logically this would make sense. There are several studies that initially suggested that the repetitive motion and static flexion involved when using a computer causes irritation and swelling of the flexor tendon sheaths, resulting in the impingement of the median nerve and the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome. Though this is not conclusively proven in studies, what is proven is that any task that involves excessive use of the hands in activities that require duration, repetition and force does in fact cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by anything that involves excessive unidirectional movement patterns that require too much force, duration and repetition, as the overused muscles actually become stronger, shorter and tighter than their opposition, the extensor muscles.

The stronger flexor muscles begin to compress the carpal tunnel and the median nerve within. The tendons that pass through the carpal tunnel (a small area between the carpal bones and the transverse carpal ligament in the wrist) can become swollen from doing the same movement over and over, like typing on a computer for extended periods of time.

Some people might think that carpal tunnel syndrome is a new condition of the information technology age, born from long hours of computer keyboarding, but carpal tunnel is not new, it just seems to appear more often because the nature of work has changed. More jobs are highly specialized and require the overuse of only a small number of muscles repeatedly, leading to a muscle imbalance. If one muscle group is overused, then the opposing muscle group must be underused. It is basic common sense.

Because of the underlying assumption that computer use contributes to carpal tunnel syndrome, concern from the government and employers continues to grow. Ironically, studies out of the Mayo Clinic released by the government seem to actually show that using a computer does not increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. There are arguments over why this is.

The test showed that those who worked a long period of time every day with computers had the same percentage of becoming afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome as everyone else.

One of the suggestions for the reasoning is that the continued use of computers would only affect people who did not practice appropriate form. People who are employed to work with computers are generally better trained in how to type from home row, how to keep their wrists straight, use ergonomic keyboards, chairs, screens, mouse and know how to use good posture.

All of these factors can help decrease instances of carpal tunnel syndrome, which in turn can help keep the number of injuries down. On the other side of the equation, computer use by individuals who hold their wrists and fingers improperly, put unequal pressure on their hands, don't use ergonomic tools or proper posture may become afflicted with cause carpal tunnel syndrome more frequently than those using appropriate form and proper ergonomic tools.

This may certainly be the reason why the belief that computer use causes carpal tunnel syndrome remains strong, even when testing suggests otherwise.

Individuals trained in how to properly use a computer will know what or what not to do in most cases.

Computer users engaged in a good ergonomic prevention program at work will know which stretches and exercises to perform, know how to use good posture and utilize the latest ergonomic equipment, and hence not experience the same injuries and muscle imbalances as say someone who does not use appropriate form, ergonomic tools or perform muscle balancing exercises and stretches.

While the studies suggest that extensive use of a computer does not contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, even that piece of information should come with its own caveat, that being that proper use of a computer appears to not increase the chances of carpal tunnel. But people certainly need to learn to use proper posture, use good ergonomic equipment and know appropriate stretches and exercises to perform because excessive use of the computer without proper hand positions or use of poor equipment leads to imbalances in the hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders that can contribute to the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome.

With carpal tunnel syndrome being so prevalent in the past decade, it is best to take all preventative methods available and implement them into one's daily work regimen. It is easier to prevent an injury than having to address it once it is already present. Prevention is the cure for carpal tunnel syndrome.

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