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Study: Workplace not always main carpal tunnel culprit

Keyboard Typing
Federal statisticians say repetitive-motion injuries account for more than half of all workplace injuries  
July 28, 1998
Web posted at: 9:47 p.m. EDT (0147 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

(CNN) -- Repetitive-motion injuries are being reported at an alarming rate in all types of workplaces -- from newsrooms to meat packing plants. However, a new study finds that jobs such as typing on a keyboard are not always the cause of such ailments as carpal tunnel syndrome.

"What we know is any abnormality or any disease that will cause the lining of those tendons to become inflamed can cause carpal tunnel syndrome," hand surgeon Dr. Jim Roderique said.

Ailments such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease and gout often are culprits. Others are pregnancy, birth control pills and sudden weight gain, which causes fluid retention.

Still, findings published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine show the real cause of hand pain is often misdiagnosed.

In the study, two-thirds of patients diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome actually had underlying medical conditions or were obese.

Then why are workplace activities often blamed?

"If one is sitting on the edge, so-to-speak, strenuous, continuous use of the hand doing particular movements can precipitate carpal tunnel syndrome. I didn't say cause; I said precipitate," Roderique said.

Doctors say in that many states, the laws are not in sync with what is known in medicine, and the workplace is left to foot the medical bills.

Researchers say if an underlying medical condition is diagnosed and treated, carpal tunnel syndrome can get better, and even be cured, without any workplace changes.

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