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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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  • Not Ineveitable (Score:5, Interesting)

    by msheppard (150231) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:17AM (#6180900) Homepage Journal
    My opinion is that the younger you started the less likely you are to have problems. I've been at a keyboard since before 10yrs old, and now, over 30, I don't have any problems at all, either eye sight or wrist/hand related. No special keyboards, no left/right hand mouse switching.

    M@
  • I just figured (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jonjohnson (568941) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:19AM (#6180932) Homepage

    that since I've been using computers since 1st grade (I'm now out in the world working), that it was a load of crap.

    Also, my eyesight hasn't gotten worse, it's better.

    Oh well, I wonder how long until that study comes out.

  • Then what causes it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by d3faultus3r (668799) <willp@nOSPaM.earthlink.net> on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:20AM (#6180939) Homepage Journal
    As far as I can tell carpal tunnel syndrome occurs mostly in people with desk jobs that involve computers, not industrial work, which was mentioned as a possible cause in the study. If it's not keyboard use then what is it?
  • by splutty (43475) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:25AM (#6180989)
    Okay. Either I misread it the first time over, or the editor in charge already changed it (I hope the latter, otherwise eye sight problems might have been induced by severe monitor use)

    But to reply on the matter at hand (no pun intended), any sort of work which forces you into the same type of repetitive movements or the same position for hours on end, has serious health repercussions. If this study 'proves' (for as far as you can do that in a statistical study) that computer keyboard use isn't the primary cause for CTS, then it's still a useless study. If it would have been a study to what *does* cause these kind of problems, it would be of a lot more use to the generic population of computer users.

    I'll wait for this study to appear before drawing any conclusions. On the base of this article, any comment would be straining for significance. It doesn't describe the testing methods, it doesn't describe the age group, it doesn't describe the previous work, etc, etc.

    On just this article, I don't think anyone can make any intelligent comments (and I'll include myself in that as well :)

    Mad.
  • Then how... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Eythian (552130) <robin@kallis t i . n e t .nz> on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:26AM (#6180993) Homepage

    If this is the case, I wonder how it came to be that computer use was associated with RSI/carpal tunnel.

    I had always heard (can anyone verify this?) that it was mouse use, in particular with scroll-wheels, that was the main offender.

  • True (Score:5, Interesting)

    by macemoneta (154740) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:27AM (#6181006) Homepage
    Computer use is no more a cause for repetitive stress injuries than any other activity. The difference is that people don't seem to stop for a while when their bodies tell them to.

    I've been keyboarding long days for 26+ years now (and "mousing" since 1984). When I start to feel a little cramped, I stop for a few minutes. No carpel tunnel injuries.

    Likewise, my vision hasn't changed over the same period, for the same reason. Eyes get tired? Stop. Look around (at a distant object). Close them for a minute.

    Repetitive stress injuries are self-inflicted wounds. The psychology behind the activity would be more interesting to read about, but I haven't seen any articles on that subject.
  • Personal experience (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 1000101 (584896) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:28AM (#6181014)
    Just like most of you, I've been typing on computers for years. I've never experienced any sort of Carpal Tunnel due to typing. This doesn't mean I'm immune however. Last year I painted the interior of my entire house and suffered severe wrist pain and numbness. My wife is a Physical Therapist and diagnosed me with Carpal Tunnel. For me anyway, computer keyboards are harmless.
  • by willith (218835) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:30AM (#6181038) Homepage
    Typing doesn't cause carpal tunnel, or any other RSI. Improper wrist positioning will do it, though. "Traditional" touch-typing on a QWERTY keyboard (fingers on the home row, ASDF JKL;) crimps up your wrists and is just bloody unnatural.

    I've been typing since I was five--I'm twenty-five now. I type at ~100WPM. Because I'm self-taught, I don't use the traditional touch-type method. When I type, my hands are at about a 45 degree angle to the keyboard; if I had a "home row", it would be something like QSDC MKLP. I hit whichever key with whichever finger is closest. My wrists stay straight and uncrimped.

    I type multiple hours per day, every day, and I don't suffer fatigue, carpal tunnel, RSI, or any of that other business. My touch-typing coworkers walk around with braces on each wrist, and gingerly ease themselves down in front of split-key ergo keyboards and start wincing when they have to type for more than a few minutes.

    Keyboarding doesn't cause RSI. Traditional, wrist-crimping touch-typing causes RSI.
  • by dave2112 (28692) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:31AM (#6181042)
    While still in college (10+yrs ago) I developed CTS in both wrists while working on a landscaping crew. I've found it doesn't slow me down at the keyboard now-a-days ... I'm a fulltime programmer

    l8r
  • by rkent (73434) <rkent@@@post...harvard...edu> on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:33AM (#6181058)
    With all due respect to my computer-using brethren, I can entirely understand this and have long suspected the same.

    Carpal-Tunnel and RSI were originally diagnosed in women who worked at "sweatshop" textile factories in the early part of the industrial revolution. Sewing is WAY harder on your hands than typing, and so it probably ran rampant in that environment. But there was almost no treatment; women were by and large told to "suck it up" and stop complaining, because it was "just" pain afterall, it's not like they broke anything.

    It wasn't until millions of white men started working with keyboards and a VERY SMALL percentage of them got RSI, that it became worthy of national attention. And so now, if you get diagnosed with RSI, you can get disability pay, early retirement, or at least many ergonomic adjustments to facilitate your recovery... IF you're white.

    One of the groups who suffer RSI at a much higher rate than computer users: meat packers. Today's meat packing plants run 2-3 times faster, sometimes more, than their historical counterparts, and some cutters have to slice through 60-80 pounds of meat over 100 times an hour. I promise, this will burn out your wrists WAY faster than writing an ActiveX module. But most meat plant workers are Hispanic, and/or non-English speakers. They get $9 an hour, minimal benefits, and, like women in textile factories of old, are usually told to shut up and quit if they don't like it when their wrists are in searing pain.

    So, by and large CT/RSI is an affluent white excuse to complain about jobs we aren't "satisfied" with. The people who are truly suffering from these conditions are largely ignored and always have been.
  • Re:Not Ineveitable (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:43AM (#6181156)
    I regulary have neck pains and pains in my upper arms.

    That's not as uncommon as you might think. I know of other people who have neck and upper arms pains(above the triceps). The pain pattern is ominous. Maybe the rest of us are just a little stronger and we'll all get these pains in a few years if we dont have them now.

  • Home row (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eGabriel (5707) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:50AM (#6181211) Homepage
    This asdf jkl; thing really cramps my style, to put it punnily. Since I was a wee lad, I have been typing in my own style, without any major trouble. A few times along the line I have tried to type in the traditional way, and since I mentally know where the keys are by now, can adjust well enough to type that way at a modest rate. I find, though, that my hands become cramped very quickly then, especially on my Happy Hacking keyboard, but even on my large IBM Model M.

    I have seen enough coworkers walking around with wrist braces bearing real enough grimaces to take the problem of wrist pain seriously, and don't think they were making it up. So I have experimented with "ergonomic" keyboards, including the Microsoft Natural. While it is comfortable to "touch type" on the Natural, it is even more comfortable to type my way. I believe it is because the way I type, my hands can always fall back to a relaxed position, elbows wherever they need to be, rather than the uncomfortable T-Rex arms I have when using the home row.

    These researchers conceded that mousing might be at fault, and I have found that the best thing I have done for wrist and shoulder comfort was to get a Happy Hacking and a small trackball. The sole reason being that getting rid of the numeric keyboard put the mousing device a good deal closer to my hand.
  • Ergonomic issues (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Schezar (249629) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:51AM (#6181217) Homepage Journal
    I've noticed that most people I've known who have these problems use low sensitivity settings for their mice, and often move their whole arm and wrist .

    Everyone else I know, however, uses extremely high sensitivity and accelleration settings. (I tweaked the reg keys in Windows to get it as high as I wanted.) I grip the mouse lightly with my fingers, and only they move. My wrist, my arm: both remain stationary. The mouse itself moves no more than a half-inch in any direction no matter what I'm doing (and at 1600px no less).

    I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that these problems are avoidable, and they're caused by poor practices more than anything else.

    In the infinite wisdom of the Polish Doctor from the old joke, "Stop doing that!"
  • Re:Not Ineveitable (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Transient0 (175617) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @08:53AM (#6181227) Homepage
    > I seriously question this study - I've seen
    > numerous fellow employees at various companies
    > who have dealt with their RSI problems in
    > different ways.

    I have to agree. I happen to currently work at a centre for adaptive technology people with disabilities. A pretty significant portion of our clientele are people with Repetitive Strain Injury and of those I'd estimate about 90 percent are coders or professional writers. I haven't made a graph or calculated p-values for this, but from what I remember of my undergrad stats course, I would say that that is a pretty damn significant correlation.

    There are several varieties of RSI of which CTS is only one and not the most common. I notice that the article never mention the larger family of RSIs. I wonder if this is intentional. Perhaps keyboard use does not significantly increase risk for CTS but does for other RSIs and this is a matter of selective reporting by the researchers.

    I'm concerned that this might just be a half assed study, but that it might end up being quoted to prevent a lot of people who definitely deserve work hazard or disability compensation from receiving it.
  • Hmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dasmegabyte (267018) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:01AM (#6181293) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if this is one of those cancer-in-rats things. Feed a rat some insane dosage of something and surprise surprise, that rat gets cancer. Then somebody finally does a study with normal exposure (e.g. typing MAYBE 10k-20k characters per diem) and finds that it doesn't hurt you.

    But what about those of use who use keyboards a LOT -- and use cramped, uncomfortable keyboards like those on laptops and palmtops a LOT. I mean, I am typing pretty much nonstop for about 16 hours a day. I have huge hands (with a size 12 ring finger) -- and sometimes, they just hurt. The 500k+ impacts per day on this click tactile keyboard can't be doing me any good. Am I the cancer rat? Can I safely ignore this stupid warning label engraved in my otherwise stylish black dell keyboard? Or can I expect the ligaments in my index finger to just tear one day, like a linebacker's ACL? Can you come back from such an injury? CAN I DROP MY LLOYDS' POLICY?!?
  • Do you exercise? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SPYvSPY (166790) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:04AM (#6181316) Homepage
    It seems to me that a lot of people complaining about RSI are in crap shape to begin with. Obviously, if you rarely stretch your body and use it in an atheletic capacity, (or if you are an athelete, but you don't properly stretch) it will start catching up to you. In my experience, everyone should stretch as much as one full hour per day, and they should begin with an even more intense regimen to establish good baseline flexibility. It is *amazing* how many aches and pains are due to stiff muscles in your back and legs. For the record, I've never had any RSI, and I've been using computers for an average of 6+ hours a day for twenty years. When I see someone complaining about RSI (which most people in their mid-thirties eventually do in my office), I view them as equivalent to lard-ass, McDonald's eaters that complain about having back pain. Hello?! Do something about your *real* problem (being inflexible (or fat)) before you get some surgery on your hand.
  • by John_Booty (149925) <johnbooty@ b o o t y p r o j e ct.org> on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:11AM (#6181386) Homepage
    I have this theory, totally unsupported by any study and supported only by my own personal experiences, that proper typing is one of the big causes of carpal tunnel / repetitive stress injuries.

    Think about it- "proper" typing is based around the concept of minimizing your hand/wrist/arm motion. With a limited range of movement, you're doing the same little movements over and over again.

    Myself, I'm a pretty fast typist, but I use sort of a modified hunt-and-peck method. I use about three fingers on each hand and I can basically hunt-and-peck AND touch type. Scary. But anyway, my hands are constantly roaming all over the keyboard like a pianist, almost... I actually feel like this really PREVENTS stress injuries, since I've got a wide range of motion going on.

    This is in addition to other, proper ergonomic measures such as arm rests on the chair, wrist rest in fron of the keyboard, etc... of course.
  • Re:Not Ineveitable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ImpTech (549794) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:23AM (#6181491)
    > ...from what I remember of my undergrad stats course, I would say that that is a pretty damn significant correlation.

    From what I remember from my stats course, correlation does not imply causality.

    Sorry, I couldn't resist that. Truthfully, I find this study hard to believe too.
  • Re:Not Ineveitable (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:29AM (#6181538)
    The Kinesis keyboard saved my programming career (and maybe my marriage?). About 10 years ago my hands tingled at the end of the week. By 1994 my hands hurt at the end of the week. By 1995 my hands hurt at the end of the day. In 1996 random spikes of pain flew up my right arm when doing routing tasks (shifting gears in my car, for example). So I convinced my boss to buy me a kinesis keyboard. Within 2 months my hands felt like it was 1994 again. Today I can even give my wife backrubs, mow the lawn, etc, with out feeling any pain.

    And the keyboards are bullet proof. I'm still using the same one today. If you get one, don't bother with dvorac. As I'm still on qwerty it is easily to move temporarily to other computers (laptops, clients sites, etc.)
  • by laughing_badger (628416) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:34AM (#6181582) Homepage
    That would be because it is a wrist rest. You are supposed to rest your wrists on it when you stop typing.

    As other posters have mentioned, the correct typing position is with your wrists straight, your hands hovering over the keyboard, and your fingers dangling down (relaxed) to press the keys. The intent of the wrist rest is that when you stop typing, you do not rest your wrists on the desk and bend them backwards as your fingers rest on the raised keyboard.

    Used correctly, a wrist rest can help relieve RSI. However learning to position your hands properly, relax, and sit properly will all do far more for you.

    Pop quiz (hotshot): How many muscles in you neck and belly are taught at the moment?

    Check by trying to relax a few. If you are like me you will find that your shoulders drop by about an inch and your gut comes out by about the same amount (curse that tasty beer). Doing that check once an hour will help you to stay relaxed while at the keyboard. Again, less pain.

  • Re:Not Ineveitable (Score:5, Interesting)

    by malia8888 (646496) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @09:38AM (#6181619)
    Transient0 lightly touched on what could be a key point in this study. He said, "I'm concerned this might be just a half assed study, but that it might end up being quoted to prevent a lot of people who definitely deserve work hazard or disability compentsation from receiving it."

    From the article, The research, appearing in this weekâ(TM)s Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted by the Department of Occupational Medicine, Herning Hospital, Herning, Denmark, with financing from the Danish Medical Research Council and the Danish Ministry of Employment, National Work Environment Authority.

    Perhaps our Danish Slashdotters could fill us in about the organizations who funded this study. It very well could have been funded by government or insurance interests who have money to save by not having to pay for work related injuries.

    I would look it up in Google and do the research for myself. I would also expound upon my research results at length; however, my eyes are sore from this monitor glare and my wrists are killing me.

  • by Firestorm_Rising (666286) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @10:37AM (#6182274)
    ...Microsoft does. Install the IntelliType Keyboard software and in your Start menu there will be a "Keyboard Healthy Computing Guide", which has some good guidelines.

    "To minimize reaching and to promote comfortable shoulder and arm postures, consider the following:

    Place your keyboard and mouse or trackball at the same height; these should be at about elbow level. Your upper arms should fall relaxed at your sides. When typing, center your keyboard in front of you with your mouse or trackball located close to it. Place frequently used items comfortably within arm's reach.

    To promote proper wrist and finger postures, consider the following:

    Keep your wrists straight while typing and while using a mouse or trackball. Avoid bending your wrists up, down, or to the sides. Use the keyboard legs if they help you maintain a comfortable and straight wrist position. Type with your hands and wrists floating above the keyboard, so that you can use your whole arm to reach for distant keys instead of stretching your fingers."

    Microsoft doesn't care. But they have information, and it's in their interest to keep you at your computer as much as possible.

  • by irritating environme (529534) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @12:13PM (#6183318)
    It could have just been the awareness level, but Repetitive Stress Injuries seemed to have arisen with increased obesity in america, which seems to correspond with a lack of activity.

    But then again, the typewriter has been around longer than the computer, and there used to be warehouses full of typists that did the jobs that computers automate these days. But RSI only seemed to rise in the computer age, which seems to correspond with the american obesity age.
  • by b0neman (527827) on Thursday June 12, 2003 @06:16PM (#6186688)
    I used to be a pretty hard core Quake, QuakeII, QuakeIII, Blood, etc gamer. I'd play with my co-workers (always during non-working hours...;) until my hands throbbed. Then I went home and had dinner. Then I'd wait for maybe an hour or two and then BAM! hit the gamespy servers for another go at it until 2:00am or when my face hit the keyboard. Now the thought of doing that sends chills up my pained arms, shoulders and neck.

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