As a board certified surgeon who specializes in Hand Surgery, I have been asked countless times whether or not the use of mouse or computer increases my patient’s risk of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Well, the short answer, like many things in medicine, is “it depends on how much you us a computer”.
A recent study in the Journal of Hand Surgery showed that there is moderate evidence of an increased risk for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) with the following 12 factors:
- Perimenopausal status (meaning going through menopause)
- Computer work
- Assembly line work
- Workplace forceful grip/exertion
- Tendinitis (inflammation of the tendons of hand)
- Upper extremity tendinopathies (dysfunction of the tendons of hand/arm)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Wrist ratio/index
- Above threshold level on American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists Hand Activity Level
So, from the list generated by this study, the use of computers at work or home does increase your risk for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Specifically, several high quality studies demonstrated an association between computer work and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). A 2006 study looked at 4,276 computer professionals and found that those with more than 8 years of computer work and over 12 hours/day of work had an increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Likewise, a 2013 study showed that keyboard use of more than 4 hours/day was associated with an increased risk. Finally, a 2012 study showed a dose-response pattern between increased keystrokes per year and the development of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Bottom Line: The evidence is clear that computer work is associated with increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). I strongly recommend that musculoskeletal hygiene of the hand be taken seriously in folks that demonstrate any of the risks listed or detailed above.
Recommendations: In high risk individuals, I recommend daily stretching of the carpal tunnel. If you or someone you know begins to demonstrate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome such as numbness of fingers at night, dropping things, hands falling asleep, decreased grip, etc., please contact a properly trained hand surgeon for evaluation. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Goldfarb CA. The Clinical Practice Guideline on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Workers’ Compensation. J of Hand Surgery. 2016;(41):723-25.