Objective: To evaluate interventions for the primary prevention of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Selection criteria: Studies had to include an engineering, administrative, personal, or multiple component intervention applied to a working or working-age population. All study designs that included comparison data were considered. Outcome measures included the incidence, symptoms, or risk factors for CTS, or a work-related musculoskeletal disorder of the upper extremity that included CTS in the definition.
Results: Twenty-four studies met our inclusion criteria. Engineering interventions included alternative keyboards, computer mouse designs and wrist supports, keyboard support systems, and tool redesign. Personal interventions included ergonomics training, splint wearing, electromyographic biofeedback, and on-the-job exercise programs. Multiple component interventions (e.g., ergonomic programs) included workstation redesign, establishment of an ergonomics task force, job rotation, ergonomics training, and restricted duty provisions. Multiple component programs were associated with reduced incidence rates of CTS, but the results are inconclusive because they did not adequately control for potential confounders. Several engineering interventions positively influenced risk factors associated with CTS, but the evaluations did not measure disease incidence. None of the personal interventions alone was associated with significant changes in symptoms or risk factors. All of the studies had important methodologic limitations that may affect the validity of the results.
Conclusions: While results from several studies suggest that multiple component ergonomics programs, alternative keyboard supports, and mouse and tool redesign may be beneficial, none of the studies conclusively demonstrates that the interventions would result in the primary prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome in a working population. Given the societal impact of CTS, the growing number of commercial remedies, and their lack of demonstrated effec- tiveness, the need for more rigorous and long-term evaluation of interventions is clear. Fund- ing for intervention research should prioritize randomized controlled trials that include: (1) adequate sample size, (2) adjustment for relevant confounding variables, (3) isolation of speci- fic program elements, and (4) measurement of long-term primary outcomes such as the inci- dence of CTS, and secondary outcomes such as employment status and cost.