The truth behind the headlines
Carpal tunnel confusion
The claim: Computer overuse causes carpal tunnel syndrome, according to media reports and many doctors.
The counterclaim: Heavy computer use doesn't increase the risk, according to a study published last June.
Expert analysis: While most doctors agree that computer use can aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome, there's never been any evidence it's the cause, says Edward Anthony Rankin, M.D., chief of orthopedic surgery at Providence Hospital, in Washington, D.C. "Studies have always shown that the individuals most likely to get it are those who perform repetitive, forceful motions with their hands and wrists in industrial settings," adds Benn Smith, M.D., consultant in neurology at the Mayo Clinic, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and an author of the study. "But people assumed that all repetitive motions--like constant computer use or sewing--could cause the syndrome, too."
Still, computer use isn't exonerated completely, warns Rankin. Some people--especially women--may be more prone to the disorder because they have smaller wrist canals, making them more susceptible to tendon irritation. "For them, a regular activity like computer use could exacerbate the syndrome," he says.
The bottom line: Computer use may not directly cause carpal tunnel, but it pays to be careful nonetheless. Take frequent stretching breaks and keep your keyboard at elbow height to avoid wrist strain.