I Type All Day — Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Inevitable?

Dec 13, 2022

I Type All Day — Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Inevitable?
You spend a large part of your day at a keyboard and you’re worried about developing carpal tunnel syndrome. The risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include computer work, but there are other factors that are far more influential.

Whether you’re out in the workforce or still at school, you spend hours each day tapping away at a computer. Working at a computer for hours on end has been associated with several musculoskeletal problems, such as neck pain (tech neck), back problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Of these three issues, CTS is the least directly linked as there are other factors that play more influential roles.

To give you a better idea, the experienced team of orthopedic experts here at Los Angeles Orthopedic Surgery Specialists wants to take a closer look at the connection between carpal tunnel syndrome and working at a computer in this month’s blog post.

Carpal tunnel syndrome basics

To understand CTS, it’s helpful to briefly review the anatomy of your wrist. On the underside of each of your wrists you have a carpal tunnel that’s formed by small carpal bones and ligaments. The tunnel, which is only about an inch in width, provides passage for nine flexor tendons, as well as your median nerve.

CTS occurs when there’s inflammation or a narrowing inside this tiny, inflexible tunnel that compresses your median nerve, which is responsible for the sensations in your palm and four fingers (excluding your pinky finger). As a result, you can experience pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling in your affected hand.

Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome

There are many risk factors when it comes to CTS and there’s conflicting evidence as to whether computer use should be included.

Several studies over the past 20 years have found no correlation between working at a computer and developing CTS. For example, one study of 411 people, which included 137 people with CTS and 274 without the condition, found that there was no positive association between computer use and CTS.

That said, a larger study with nearly 2,400 participants found that repetitive stress on the wrist due to occupational factors did negatively impact median nerve function.

As you can see, the evidence is far from conclusive that working at a computer causes CTS. 

What we do know, however, is that there is a strong associations between CTS and:

  • Obesity
  • Gender (women are more prone to the condition)
  • Age (it’s more common as you get older)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Previous wrist injuries
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Pregnancy (due to the fluctuation in hormones)
  • Thyroid imbalances

A comprehensive, controlled study released in 2018 paints a clearer picture and reports that, “Sex, age, smoking, wrist injury, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and wrist working are all risk factors of CTS … Smoking, alcohol, and diabetes mellitus can be the predictors of moderate and severe CTS.” This study also concluded that the older you are, the more affected you might be by occupational factors, such as working at a computer.

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome

No matter how your CTS developed, we’re here to help. In most cases, we can treat CTS conservatively through targeted exercises and medications. Should your CTS become severe and resist conservative efforts, we can turn to wrist surgery, during which we make more room in your carpal tunnel.

If you’re struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome, call one of our offices — in Los Angeles, including Glendale, Wilshire, and East LA, Santa Fe Springs, Pico Rivera, Encino, Newhall, Montebello, or Tarzana, California — or schedule an appointment for a consultation online.