Computer use and carpal tunnel syndrome: a 1-year follow-up study

JAMA. 2003 Jun 11;289(22):2963-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.289.22.2963.


Context: Computer use is increasingly common among many working populations, and concern exists about possible adverse effects of computer use, such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

Objectives: To estimate the prevalence and incidence of possible CTS and to evaluate the contribution of use of mouse devices and keyboards to the risk of possible CTS.

Design and setting: A 1-year follow-up study with questionnaires conducted in 2000 and 2001 at 3500 workplaces in Denmark, followed on each of the 2 occasions by a clinical interview on symptom distribution and frequency.

Participants: The questionnaire was sent to 9480 members of a trade union, with an initial response rate of 73% (n = 6943), and 82% (n = 5658) at follow-up.

Main outcome measures: At baseline, there were 3 outcome measures: tingling/numbness in the right hand once a week or more as reported in the questionnaire; tingling, numbness, and pain in the median nerve in the right hand confirmed by clinical interview; and tingling, numbness, and pain in the median nerve in the right hand at night confirmed by clinical interview. At 1 year of follow-up the main outcome of interest was onset of symptoms among participants who had no or minor symptoms at baseline.

Results: The overall self-reported prevalence of tingling/numbness in the right hand at baseline was 10.9%. The interview confirmed that prevalence of tingling/numbness in the median nerve was 4.8%, of which about one third, corresponding to a prevalence of 1.4%, experienced symptoms at night. Onset of new symptoms in the 1-year follow-up was 5.5%. In the cross-sectional comparisons and in the follow-up analyses, there was an association between use of a mouse device for more than 20 h/wk and risk of possible CTS but no statistically significant association with keyboard use.

Conclusions: The occurrence of possible CTS in the right hand was low. The study emphasizes that computer use does not pose a severe occupational hazard for developing symptoms of CTS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / etiology
  • Computers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ergonomics
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • User-Computer Interface