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Computers and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Studied 365

Posted by michael
from the aching-wrist dept.
pioneer writes "An article on MSNBC.com reports that a Danish study has found that computer use is not a significant risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome. Not sure about you, but I spent a lot of time learning dvorak and kinesis to prevent just that... the 'inevitable' onslaught of RSI/carpal tunnel/etc."
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Computers and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Studied

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  • As I write this... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jerk City Troll (661616) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:19AM (#6180923) Homepage
    ...both of my wrists are cramping up. The more I type, worse my wrists get. Sadly, I'm a programmer. That doesn't help things. I cannot agree with a study that tries to disassociate repetitive motion with RMI. That's just bologna.
  • mouse is a problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BenjyD (316700) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:29AM (#6181017)
    From the article:

    The researchers said they did find an association between use of a mouse for more than 20 hours a week and a slightly elevated risk of a possible problem but no statistically significant association with keyboard use.

    So mouse usage is a problem, but the keyboard isn't. Guess I should stop playing Battlefield 1942 at work then.
  • by Verteiron (224042) * on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:39AM (#6181121) Homepage
    I've been typing since I was about 6... at age 20 or so I began to experience symptoms of a RSI, tingling fingers, burning pain in the wrist, etc etc. So I took some steps. I got an ergonomic keyboard for home, and those gel pads that supposedly help you keep your wrists up. The tingling got worse and worse over the next few weeks. What seemed to hurt the worst was actually resting my wrist on the pad while typing. So I stopped. I began typing by keeping my hands in the air at all times, keeping the backs of my hands level with my forearms, and letting my fingers fall down to the keyboard rather than reaching out toward it. It looked weird, but it was the only way I could type without wincing.

    The pain was gone within 2 weeks. The last the of tingling faded away (except in the pinky of my right hand, which seems to be related to mouse use) a month or so later. As long as I keep up this spidery-looking typing style, my hands don't hurt.

    Might be worth a try to those of you experiencing pain.
  • Re:Not Ineveitable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by andy1307 (656570) * on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:40AM (#6181130)
    Its been less than 10 years since a large number of people have started using computers everyday. It's too early to predict the long term health effects. Someone i know had real bad back pains because of her posture when she used a computer. 20 years from now, a significant percentage of us could suffer from things like back aches and bad eyesight...It's just too early to say.
  • DVORAK is crap? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thatguywhoiam (524290) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:42AM (#6181154)
    The submitter learned a Dvorak keyboard to combat RSI? What's with that?

    Somebody correct me if I'm wrong (I can certainly count on that around here...) but I thought it was pretty widely accepted that the Dvorak keyboard being faster or better is a myth. [urbanlegends.com]

    ...

    Alright, a quick Google reveals that this is not commonly accepted. [angelfire.com] The defense is pretty shaky thought ("the Navy wouldn't do that.")

    Anyways, repetitive movements are what cause the (quetionable) RSI condition, and I don't see how changing the keyboard layout would help, short of something more radical like one of those Logitech/MS 'natural' keyboards... and I don't believe Dvorak is inherently any faster than Qwerty; when comparing two people who know both very well, the typing speeds are probably the same.

    You'd do much better to lower your keyboard to take the strain off your wrists. Most people keep their keyboards too high.

  • Re:Not Ineveitable (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mshumphr (105220) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:45AM (#6181168) Homepage
    I don't think starting age is involved, actually. To me, it appears to be a strength of the hands thing. I have some of the symptoms of carpal tunnel and have fought off repeated stress injury. Four fingers tingled from the impact of hitting keys too much. I know a guy who has extremely severe carpal tunnel, to the point that he needed surgery back in high school.. He and I both started using computers before we were ten years old, and we are both around 25 now. We also have similarly structured hands.

    An the other side, you have people like my father and my co-workers who all have, I can only describe it as "thicker", hands. Larger fingers, larger wrists, more apparent mass there. None of them have any problems at all.

    And then (just to be complete) there's the guy with tiny, thin hands and an old IBM keyboard (you know... the kind of thing that could survive a fall from the fourth floor) who pounds on the keyboard continuously... and has absolutely no problems at all.

    Since my hands always feel worse when I'm typing, and the pain continues after a long coding session, I have wonder what these people who wrote the article can point to as the actual source of carpal tunnel and RSI. It would be one thing to say that computer use is not the primary cause of it. It's something else entirely to say that computer use has no impact, or that the syndroms don't actually exist at all.
  • by Chilles (79797) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @10:02AM (#6181298)
    This article confirms what a few of my friends and I have been saying for a while. We all are very active computer users (>10h/day usually, using computers for at least 15 years), and we all only suffer from pain in the wrist when we allow our stress levels to rise to intolerable heights or when we're doing something we really dislike.
    From what I've seen in other people everybody who had severe wrist/arm/shoulder complaints that they were relating to their computer work was either:
    - Working under a lot of stress and/or time pressure for prolonged periods.
    or:
    - Not happy with their work or their work situation.
    I think that computer use puts you in a certain heightened risk group for RSI/carpal tunnel but in my opinion you only "get" RSI or carpal tunnel when you are under a lot of stress or generally not in a very relaxed/happy mental state.

    I find that when I voice this opinion in the real world, people tend to be very offended by it... so just for the record, this is not a troll.
  • Re:DVORAK is crap? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pioneer (71789) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @10:09AM (#6181362) Homepage
    Somebody correct me if I'm wrong (I can certainly count on that around here...) but I thought it was pretty widely accepted that the Dvorak keyboard being faster or better is a myth.

    Dvorak is not crap. When people watch me type they usually comment that my fingers hardly move. I watch people type on a qwerty and their fingers are all over the place for most words. Dvorak is optimized for the english language and most words can be typed on the home row. (~1600 to be specific).

    About the military (lack of) adoption. The military found that learning dvorak took about 50 hours to reach proficiency while learing qwerty took several weeks. I believe the legend is that they would have switched but there was corporate pressure for the typewriter makers.

    (Remember, qwerty was originally developed to prevent the typewriter from getting mechanically stuck... not efficiency for typing)

    My only problems with dvorak is that it isn't optimized for c/java code because the brackets and some other characters are kinda a bitch to get at. for that there are emacs key bindings and kinesis keyboard macros. though typing in a language like lisp/scheme or a more verbal language (more reserved words, like vhdl/vb/) is a delight because most of the typing done is done typing words.

    radical like one of those Logitech/MS 'natural' keyboards

    natural keyboards are crap. check out a real ergonomic keyboard [kinesis-ergo.com] [kinesis-ergo.com]. Natural keyboards have positive wrist angle which is really bad for you. With the kinesis, not only do my fingers move less with dvorak, but the kinesis eliminates any need for wrist swivel.

  • Re:Not Ineveitable (Score:2, Insightful)

    by musicmaker (30469) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @10:11AM (#6181387) Homepage
    I would have to disagree with this also. I started programming when I was nine, and started to have trouble with my wrists when I hit 21 (also about two years after I learned how to touch type). I have since switched to an ergonomic keyboard which has cleared up the problem completely.

    In Europe there are pretty strict regulations about the environment around VDU workers (people sitting at a computer). I have to wonder if many people's problem is not their environment. I have seen far too many people lower their chair practicaly to the floor, and then wonder why they get problems with their wrists. People also seem to think that it's okay to sit sideways at a desk looking at a screen on an angle, or at a screen with their head turned. This is a sure way to develop neck and back problems. A poor chair is another issue. They have to support your back properly so you can relax as you type, otherwise you will develop back problems. Your elbows should idealy be at the level of your wrists at the keyboard. If they are lower, you are asking for problems. A good friend of mine at University was studying physiotherapy, and they had found the wrist rests can actualy do more harm than good, as people tend to rest their wrists on them whilst typing. This is another way you can develop problems. Wrist rests are for resting your wrist on whilst you are not typing!
    All in all I have seen very few people who have good posture, and a well configured work environment have problems with RSI. This is not the first study like this to be published.

    http://www.tifaq.com/archive/rsi_article.txt [tifaq.com]
    This is a link to an article published in the independant in 1993 that talks about RSI being totaly preventable by simply ensuring workers have well designed environment.
  • Flawed Study? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WC as Kato (675505) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @10:17AM (#6181438)

    THE FINDING was based on a survey of nearly 7,000 workers... Computer use âoedoes not pose a severe occupational hazard for developing (the) symptoms,â the authors concluded.

    The article doesn't state what was on the survey but I have a suspicion that there is no distinction between a computer user and a person that is mainly a typists. I've been a programmer for many years and although I would be considered a heavy computer user, I would not be a heavy keyboard user. I type parts of the program, think, type some more, take a break, etc. I'm not like a key data entry person. That person would type non-stop for hours. I say that either the study is flawed and/or the article is too short on details.

  • if you do it right (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oogoody (302342) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @10:48AM (#6181708)
    From reading the posts it sounds like if you
    use the right keyboard, the right pressure,
    take breaks, have the right posture, etc then you'll be ok.

    All those preconditions sounds like there's a
    lot of risk to me. Rock climbing is safe if
    you do X, Y, Z. But if you don't, you are
    screwed.
  • by Reality_X (23422) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @11:33AM (#6182232) Homepage
    Well, I'm not sure, but my 9 months of CTS might contradict this finding.

    Let me just start off by saying that you wouldn't want to wish CTS on your worst enemy. It's not a pleasant experience.

    That out of the way, I can say, without a doubt, that typing was the cause of my CTS.

    I was hacking up an Ericsson PABX controller for many many hours for many many days. I wasn't taking breaks, I wasn't stretching, and I was using a mouse and a normal keyboard.

    At first my hands went numb on a Friday. I thought it was strange, but my wrists were fine and feeling was restored after the weekend.

    About 3 weeks later, I suddenly got this huge amount of pain in my right wrist. The next day my whole right hand was paralised, and I took 2 weeks off work.

    I returned to work after having trained Dragon NaturallySpeaking to program C with Emacs. After about a week, my voice was gone, and my throat hurt like hell. So I gave up on that.

    I got an MS Natural Keyboard. It helped. I got a trackball and used my left hand instead of my right hand. That helped.

    I also discovered an amazing program called Workrave [sf.net] that forced me to take breaks. I highly recommend that people use this program. Prevention is a good thing.

    So anyway, it's been 9 months. I've been to physiotherapists, chiropractors, hand therapists, hand surgeons, etc. None have really fixed the problem. But it's "managable" now.

    Anyway, I'm probably looking at some form of surgery in the next few months as I seem to be stuck in a "rut", having good wrist days and bad wrist days.

    The moral of my story: if you're typing a lot, and you're not taking breaks, then you're in for an aweful experience. Do some stretches and stuff as well. Seems to help. CTS isn't fun. Very depressing at times.

    Oh yeah, I'm 20. I've been programming for maybe 6 years. So you don't necessarily have to be old to get a form of RSI.

    Oh, another good resource is the Typing Injury FAQ [tifaq.org].
  • by Mostly Harmless (48610) <mike_peteNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday June 12, 2003 @12:37PM (#6182934) Homepage
    Well, being a computer geek, musician and hockey player, I couldn't tell you which of the three makes my wrists hurt. But I can tell you what makes them feel better -- a little exercise.

  • by jmichaelg (148257) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @12:59PM (#6183165) Journal
    Gee, your post sounds like how I used to sound and your profile certainly explains why I got RSI. I only was running 3 miles every other day and lifting weights. I had been coding for 25 years with nary a problem so I figured the RSI crowd was a bunch of wankers. Until one period where I typed straight for 14 hours/day for 3 weeks. That particular type of work with no breaks while the compiler did its thing or I stared at a screen trying to understand where the bug was lurking led me directly to RSI. The running and weight work were for naught when compared to not holding my wrists properly while I typed.

    Yeah, you sound just like I used to sound till I experienced RSI first hand. Funny how experience will change your viewpoint.

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