Abstract

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), the most common peripheral entrapment neuropathy, is caused by compression of the median nerve at the wrist, and annual costs of CTS treatment in the United States total $2 billion. Although CTS often is attributed to repetitive motions at work, recent reports have questioned the relationship of CTS and occupational activities. This article reviews recent publications and provides insights into the causation of this common problem. Despite ergonomic workplace modifications aimed at reducing perceived risk factors, rates of imputedly work-related musculoskeletal disorders such as CTS have not decreased during the past ten years. One study found a prevalence of electrodiagnostically confirmed CTS of 3.5% in frequent computer users, but the authors also note that affected and unaffected employees had similar occupations, years using a computer, and usage rates. Another group concluded that computer use does not pose a severe occupational hazard for developing symptoms of CTS. Recent publications have suggested other risk factors such as age, obesity, hand dominance, reduced physical fitness, lifetime alcohol intake, and smoking; others have correlated weight and body mass index with prolonged median nerve latency. A relatively small number of jobs may be associated with CTS, primarily those that involve high force and repetition. The etiology of CTS usually is multifactorial, and risk factors include genetics, age, female sex, and obesity; its relationship with occupational injury is questioned.

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