Computer Keyboard May Be Unfairly Cast as the Office Villain

Spending seven hours a day hammering on a computer keyboard may not be putting you at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome after all.

Researchers looking for a direct link between computer usage and carpal tunnel--the compression of the median nerve in the wrist that can cause numbness, tingling and pain--studied secretaries, transcribers and other employees at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., who log long hours at the keyboard.

Of the 30% of the employees who reported tingling in their hands, only 10.5% turned out to have carpal tunnel, said the researchers, who reported their findings in the June 12 issue of Neurology, a medical journal.

The findings surprised the researchers who expected there would be a higher incidence of carpal tunnel among heavy computer users, said lead researcher Dr. J. Clarke Stevens, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

While the findings may be a relief to computer users who worry about developing the so-called "office plague," they remain at risk of aches and pains in the shoulder, neck, arm and wrist. So there is still great value in having your office pod set up in an ergonomically correct way, Stevens said.

Carpal tunnel seems to most often affect women and those in middle age. It can be caused by wrist trauma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy. It's also associated with jobs with lots of repetitive motions: meat-packing plants and other factory jobs, for example.

Treatments included wearing a splint and undergoing cortisone injections. In cases where other measures fail, surgery can relieve pressure on the affected nerve.

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