Carpal tunnel syndrome is common among adults in the United States – but computer use may not actually increase the risk of this type of wrist pain. Here’s what to know about CTS causes and treatment.
It’s a common belief that typing can cause carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), but researchers have discovered that the link between CTS and keyboard use could be a myth.
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects between 4 and 10 million Americans, or 3 to 6 percent of all adults in the US, most commonly between the ages of 45 and 64. Though the condition is both common and treatable, there are many misconceptions surrounding the causes of CTS.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common nerve disorder in the hand. The carpal tunnel is located on the palm side of the wrist; eight small bones form three sides of the tunnel, with soft tissue and the transverse carpal ligament forming the fourth. CTS occurs when the carpal tunnel compresses the median nerve as it passes into the hand.
The median nerve provides feeling in the thumb, index finger, long finger, and part of the ring finger. When this nerve is compressed, patients may experience tingling, burning, itching, or numbness. Symptoms can range from mild, occasional numbness to loss of feeling and function in the hand.
CTS is a progressive disease, which means that symptoms can worsen over time. Usually, symptoms of CTS appear in the morning and worsen throughout the day. Activities such as driving or holding a book can exacerbate CTS; until recently, typing and mouse-use were assumed to be one of these activities.
The Myth of CTS and Typing
Until recently, typing and computer use were two activities that were commonly believed to increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. However, a conclusive study has shown that computer use does not lead to higher rates of CTS.
In 2017, a group of researchers in Gujarat, India performed a trial on 137 patients with confirmed cases of CTA at the K.M. Patel School of Physiotherapy, comparing them to 274 control cases. The study found that there was no positive association between computer use and CTS
In fact, obesity and short stature were much more positively correlated with CTS than computer use, suggesting that CTS is largely a result of physiology. The study speculates that “pressure on the median nerve due to fat near the carpal tunnel may be the reason for this association.”
In addition, a review of eight epidemiological studies over the last two decades found “no evidence that computer work or other repetitive, low-force work causes CTS.” Holding your wrist in a certain position for many hours at a time can increase pressure on the carpal tunnel area, but not to the extreme point of causing CTS.
What Causes CTS?
So if your desk job doesn’t cause CTS, what does? Some CTS susceptibility is a matter of genes; certain people are naturally more likely to develop CTS than others. For example, women are three times more likely to experience CTS than men. It’s also more prevalent in people over the age of 45. High blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis can all increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
In addition, certain jobs can increase your risk. Any task that requires a forceful grip and/or the use of vibrating tools can damage the median nerve. Jobs that involve repetitive wrist movement, such as manufacturing, assembly line work, and construction, can lead to higher rates of CTS. Finally, there are some day-to-day habits that may increase risk for CTS: smoking, high salt intake, high body mass index, and a low-activity lifestyle are all risk factors.
If you’re struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome, the doctors at the Florida Hand Center are here to help. Get in touch to get a free hand screening from a certified hand specialist and learn how to treat any issues you may be having.