Among the numerous perils of computer-facing work–including repetitive stress ailments such as postural syndrome, eye strain and tendonitis–carpal tunnel is the best known, as it has received the most press. During the personal computing boon of the 1990s, its frequency among white collar professionals was considered to be at epidemic levels.
“At its height of diagnosis, anybody showing up at a doctor’s office with wrist pain or hand pain was being diagnosed with carpal tunnel,” said Carol Harnett, vice president of insurer Hartford Financial Services Group’s group benefits division told, the Associated Press March 9.
But cases of carpal tunnel have plummeted since. According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) there was a 21 percent decline in incidences in 2006 alone. Among workers in professional and business services, the number of cases fell by half between 2005 and 2006.
The Mayo Clinic found in a 2001 study that heavy computer users (those using one up to seven hours a day) had no more carpal tunnel than the rest of the population. Harvard Medical School issued a release in 2005 which contradicted the belief that excessive computer use correlated with painful carpal tunnel as well.
The BLS found that blue collar workers, especially those doing assembly line work such as sewing and cleaning, had a far greater incidence of carpal tunnel than white collar workers.
A March 9 AP article stated that the focus on prevention by some businesses has dialed back carpal tunnel incidences as well. Work is being designed so people aren’t as at risk as they once were.
Many companies have invested in ergonomic desks, chairs and perform ergonomic assessments to employees. And a few manufacturers have started to shut down their manufacturing line a few times each day for mandatory five-minute stretches.