Harvard study: carpal tunnel not caused by computer use

December 16th, 2005 by Julie Ferguson

Our friend Joe Paduda sent us a link to a new report issued by Harvard Medical School stating that carpal tunnel syndrome is not caused by computer use. The report disputes the conventional wisdom that carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive stress injury, stating that it is often incorrectly described as one. Rather, it is a compression of the median nerve in the wrist that affects about 2 to 3 percent of the population.
This reinforces a Danish study on keyboards and carpal tunnel syndrome that Ergonomics Today reported on in 2003. In that study, researchers stated that keyboards are not an “occupational risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome.” But note:
“While the researchers indicated that keyboard usage probably is not linked to CTS, they did find an association between using a mouse for more than 20 hours each week and a slightly elevated risk of developing CTS. They also noted that evidence existed that linked ‘forceful industrial work’ to the development of CTS.”
For more information, see the Mayo Clinic’s pages on carpal tunnel syndrome. Among the occupational risk factors they list: “Power tools – such as chippers, grinders, chain saws or jackhammers – and heavy assembly line work, such as occurs in a meatpacking plant. Although repetitive computer use is commonly assumed to cause carpal tunnel syndrome, the scientific evidence for this association is weak.”
That�s not to say that there are not other muscular maladies that may be associated with heavy computer use and poor workstation design, or that CTS isn’t aggravated by heavy computer use. But it would seem to indicate that computer use is not a precipitating factor, and that much of what is commonly thought to be CTS may be mislabled.
Related posts:
Ergo tips – workstation ergonomic design
Laptop ergonomic woes