Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Computer Users : Fact or Myth?

carpal tunnel syndrome and computer usage

Do you spend long hours on your computer tapping away on your keyboard and moving your mouse? In addition, do you experience a numbing and tingling sensation in your fingers and wrists? If your answer is yes then you might also be thinking that you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), and you are not the only one who thinks so. Most computer users think the prolonged work on the keyboard and mouse causes CTS.

However, is it true that excessive computer work causes carpal tunnel syndrome? Are you CTS is responsible for the numbness you are experiencing in your fingers? Not knowing about carpal tunnel syndrome makes one susceptible to the myths about computer use. Blind belief in CTS myths might make you decide on a medical treatment that might cause irreversible harm rather than cure the symptoms.

Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Did you know that using your computer actually puts a lot of stress on your wrist? Placing your wrist on a hard surface while using the mouse might feel comfortable, but the actions of your hand and fingers put pressure on the carpal tunnel which causes the discomfort.

As the name implies, carpal tunnel is a passageway in the palmar side of your wrist. This passageway is where the median nerve, the one that controls the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, passes through.

This passageway is narrow, and the continuous pressure on the carpal tunnel makes the ligaments and tendons that surround it swell. The swelling of the carpal tunnel reduces its dimensions further.

You apply pressure on the carpal tunnel when you extend and flex the wrist and fingers. When pressure increases through the prolonged and repetitive use of the hand, the function of the median nerve becomes compromised; a condition that may lead to the carpal tunnel syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The following sensations may indicate carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • ​Frequent burning sensations in the hand
  • Tingling, itching, and numbness in the palm and the thumb, middle, and index fingers
  • Dull ache in the hand and forearm
  • Pain in the fingers that may soar up to the shoulder
  • The sensation of a swollen finger even when no swell is visible

You experience these sensations and conclude you have CTS, but do the symptoms indicate without doubt carpal tunnel syndrome?

Not necessarily.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is not a disease, but a collection of symptoms. There are different conditions or a combination of factors that contribute to the carpal tunnel syndrome, such as:

  • Being born with a small carpal tunnel which predisposes one to the hand disorder
  • Injury and trauma to the wrist like fractures or sprains
  • Medical conditions like diabetes, health issues on the thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis or fluid retention during pregnancy
  • Occupational, examples of which are the use of vibrating hand tool, repetitive activities and hand movements that involve clipping, grasping, and squeezing.

Proving the Myths wrong

As a syndrome, accurate diagnosis of the carpal tunnel disorder is difficult. Despite the difficulty in diagnosis, the myths about computer use and carpal tunnel syndrome continue to exist.

Go over the myths below and the facts that prove each misconception wrong before you jump to conclusions.

Myth: Computer work is the direct cause of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Truth: Studies on computer use and CTS claim that there is no sufficient evidence to show that computer use is the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. CTS develop over time as its dimension reduces through continuous pressure on the median nerve.

Proper positioning of the wrist can minimize the pressure and eliminate the discomforts.

Myth: Only the wrist and the hands get CTS affliction.

Truth: Maybe the pain in the wrist is the result of a trapped nerve in the neck or shoulder. Since the median nerve runs through the neck, shoulders, arms, and the wrist, you may feel the pain in any of these areas.

Myth: Surgery is the best cure for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Truth: CTS surgery may apply to some patients, but not to all. A medical treatment depends on the appropriate diagnosis of CTS cause.

Further, a CTS surgery of a ligament could cause the loss of some wrist strength. Since the surgical cut is permanent, so is the reduced wrist strength

Myth: CTS is work-related.

Truth: Other conditions that are not related to work may bring about carpal tunnel syndrome. The non-work related conditions, however, could increase your possibility of acquiring CTS.

If you believe you have these symptoms, consult a medical expert who specialize on CTS and similar conditions.

Tips for the Proper Use of Keyboard

If you spend most of your time facing the computer, you can prevent the development of CTS by following these tips:

  • When using a keyboard or a mouse, place your wrists parallel to your elbows. Avoid flexing wrist downward or extending it upward.
  • Position the monitor on your front and at arm’s length.
  • If possible, place your keyboard on an adjustable tray. The adjustable tray allows your forearm to remain parallel to the floor and the elbows bent 90 degrees.
  • Make sure your wrist is parallel your forearm when using the keyboard.
  • Position the mouse near the keyboard and at the same level.
  • You could use a padded wrist rest to reduce the strain.
  • Take a break and rest your hands, either away from the computer or by just placing hands on your lap, palms up.

Conclusion

Using the computer is very much an integral part of today’s work environment, regardless if you work at home or at an office. Prolonged computer use will inevitably cause discomfort on certain parts of the body. However, assuming that the discomfort you are feeling is carpal tunnel syndrome might mislead you to make the wrong decision regarding treatment. CTS shares similar symptoms with other conditions that might not be related and would require less severe medical treatments.

If you feel discomfort in your fingers, hands, and wrist, try doing the tips on the keyboard and mouse use. Or, consult a medical expert in nerves to get a correct diagnosis.

Most often, body discomforts arising from prolonged computer use might be due to the improper use of the keyboard, and poor body and arm postures.


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