Is the Mouse More Dangerous Than the Keyboard?
After following the study participants for one year and comparing types of computer work reported by the workers, researchers found no increase in symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome associated with standard keyboard work. But they did find an increase of possible carpal tunnel symptoms among those who used a mouse for more then 20 hours per week.
Although this study confirms the low risk of carpal tunnel syndrome associated with moderate computer use, neurologist Richard Olney, MD, says several questions still remain.
"The biggest weakness of the study is that it didn't take one step further to see if those 'possible carpal tunnel syndrome cases' associated with mouse use were actually carpal tunnel syndrome," says Olney, who is a professor at the University of California in San Francisco.
Olney says the simplest way to confirm carpal tunnel syndrome is to perform a nerve conduction test that reveals whether the median nerve is responsible for the symptoms. But this study used only a clinical interview to confirm "possible carpal tunnel syndrome" cases. According to previous research, Olney says that only about a third of the cases that meet the clinical definition for carpal tunnel syndrome actually turn out to be carpal tunnel syndrome.
"It would also be useful to look at really high levels of computer usage [more than 30 hours per week] and use more objective measures to be certain if it's carpal tunnel syndrome or not," Olney tells WebMD.
Computer-Related Pain May Be Something Else
Researchers say their findings suggest that other factors may be causing the pain experienced by computer users. The study showed the onset of new symptoms was often linked to an accident, other medical disorders, and smoking.
"It is probable that tingling and numbness are common symptoms of either specific medical conditions other than carpal tunnel syndrome or are part of a large burden of medically unexplained symptoms that reflect the stresses and strains of everyday life," write the researchers.
Andersen says his advice to people who do a lot of computer work and suffer from hand and arm pain is don't jump to conclusions that it's carpal tunnel syndrome.