“You know what they say: carpal tunnel comes from using your hands too much.”
“Well, my sister’s ex-brother-in-law had that carpal tunnel once, and he went right in for surgery.”
Well-meaning statements like these are intended to help, and if your thumb, first and second fingers, and inner half of your ring finger have started tingling, you’ve probably been asking around for advice. But is the advice you’re offered fact or fiction? Let’s take a look at some common misconceptions surrounding carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
FICTION: Working at a keyboard will cause CTS.
FACT: If you work at a computer all day, you might be worried about developing CTS. Though it’s true that repetitive motions like keyboarding can aggravate CTS symptoms, studies have shown that they are rarely the initial cause of CTS. In fact, CTS is more likely related to genetic or biological factors rather than occupational or environmental hazards. An underlying condition, such as diabetes or hormone imbalances, can also create swelling in the carpal tunnel which can put pressure on the median nerve. Lastly, gender plays a structural role as women are diagnosed more frequently than men with CTS, perhaps in part due to having smaller wrists (and carpal tunnels) for the median nerve to pass through.
FICTION: You won’t develop CTS if you don’t type or work at a keyboard.
FACT: The flip side of the issue is that many people who actually develop CTS assume they don’t have it because they don’t spend long hours at a keyboard. A longitudinal study shows that CTS is much more common in occupations outside computer-related fields, such as those using hand tools which vibrate or those doing assembly-line repetitive work. The “Carpal Tunnel Fact Sheet” from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website states that “carpal tunnel syndrome is three times more common among assemblers than among data-entry personnel.” Unfortunately, those who don’t realize they have CTS seek treatment much later which often means more invasive treatment is required.
FICTION: CTS will clear up on its own if left alone.
FACT: Without treatment, the muscles in the thumb and hand which rely on the median nerve will waste away. This loss of strength will affect grip strength and hand strength, and even simple movements like buttoning a shirt are a problem. For some, detecting hot and cold with their hands or fingers becomes impossible. Permanent tingling/numbness and hand weakness due to damage to the median nerve are likely without treatment, leading to permanent disability.
Though hearing others’ stories about their experience with CTS might be helpful, often it is funneled second-hand through a number of people. Just like the old children’s game “Telephone,” somewhere along the line fact and fiction get a little mixed together. Doctorpedia is here to help you sort the fact from the fiction. We offer expert physicians who will talk to you in short videos about tests and treatments, along with short articles to educate you in your wellness journey. The facts and fiction about CTS are made plain with help from Doctorpedia, doctor-led and patient-friendly.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Medline Plus
- Carpal tunnel syndrome fact sheet: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- The quality and strength of evidence for etiology: example of carpal tunnel syndrome
- Carpal tunnel syndrome and computer exposure at work in two large complementary cohorts
- Is carpal tunnel syndrome related to computer exposure at work?
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.