Carpal tunnel syndrome--what happened to it?

It seems to have disappeared.
I remember when the internet was young and computers were new, everybody was talking about carpal tunnel syndrome.
There was lots of talk about the dangers of working all day with a mouse.
There were lots of special keyboards for sale with padded places to support your wrist.
There was lots of talk about ergonometrics in the office, designed to fight carpal tunnel.
But nowadays, you don’t hear about it at all.

So I checked google ngrams, and sure enough: it’s not being talked about very much.
Google shows
that there was a huge spike in 1999, and since then a sharp drop in the number of mentions.
(Interestingly, there was also a huge spike in 1969–does anybody know why?)

So what happened to the dreaded carpal tunnel?

According to the Mayo Clinic, carpal tunnel syndrome is very common, and there are more than 3 million cases in the U.S. every year.

When computers were new, carpal tunnel syndrome was newsworthy. Now that everyone is familiar with it, it’s no longer newsworthy. It hasn’t gone away, it’s just that there’s not so much talk about it these days. There are all kinds of ergonomic keyboards and supports out there, and people are familiar with those too, so again, not worth talking about.

I have no clue about what happened in 1969 to cause a spike then.

I looked up CTS on the NHS website. It’s clear that it is a problem for many people but interestingly, after listing various treatments - exercise, wrist splints, steroid injections, they go on to list possible causes. Using a mouse or a keyboard doesn’t even signify:

Oh, it’s still prevalent. I see patients with it all the time. And if you had a serious case of it, you’d dread it too. Clumsy, numb, painful hands with wasted muscles and poor grip strength are the end result of this syndrome all too often.

It’s just not one the media cares about anymore.

Gripping the mouse or controller as if it’s trying to run away, bad posture when typing, vibrating controllers… are all included in this line cited by bob++:

do work or hobbies that mean you repeatedly bend your wrist or grip hard, such as using vibrating tools

I suspect that “hitting the keys as if the harder you type, the more enemies pixelated or organic who die” may also be a factor. I know several people with CTS and one of the first things they had to learn was to stop trying to mutilate their keyboard.

It’s not gone. If you have access to your company’s workmen’s comp claims, you will likely see a large number of CTS claims. Ergonomic corrections in the workforce are still abound.

I believe that ecg nailed it above, in that is still common, so common, that it doesn’t make the news.

WAG, it’s when all the women working in the steno pool had been on the job 10-15 years. I could be wrong, but I thought I’d heard that that the steepness of a typewriter keyboard can cause it.
Also, there was a lot more people working on assembly lines in factories doing the same thing over and over all day, every day.

Or, that’s just when it started getting recognized and diagnosed more often. It’s possible it was always prevalent, but doctors didn’t know what it was and/or told patients not to do that when they said ‘it hurts when I do this’.

Well, it certainly hasn’t gone away in my world. I have it. Not from computer use, but from playing upright bass. (It’s very common for us bass players. It’s the whole gripping hard thing; upright bass is a very physical instrument.) It’s not too bad right now, and I’ll be seeing a hand therapist soon.

It looks like the term was defined a few years prior and reached that peak through a rapid and consistent increase.

And then it probably ceased to be newsworthy or a thing that set your medical research paper apart from the throng.

Nope. There appears to be plenty of earlier uses, just not many enough not to be rounded off to 0.

It is however just before the formation of OSHA. Was there an increased focus on documenting workplace injuries prior to that?

I remember reading an article – probably a couple of decades ago – talking about repetitive stress injuries. The doctor who’d been working on the issues mostly worked with dancers and musicians. When it got more recognition with the keyboard issues, it had a surge in publicity. And, as everyone has said, it’s not “new news” anymore.

It may seem odd, but there is a status thing attached to workplace injuries.

Some years ago it was a thing to be all martyrdom about for heart attacks - but when it was found that it was not some inherent property of being a thrusting office manager it kind of became too ordinary to be a thing any more.

We also got this with hypertension

Same thing happened with ulcers - the idea was that you were some upwardly mobile highly pressured thrusting career manager - turns out that stomach ulcers are not exclusive to such roles and are largely caused by a bacterial infection - so its not a status illness anymore.

CTS was another one of these, if you had it then you must be a knowledge worker yadda yadda - but turns out that that condition along with R.S.I happens to loads of occupations, from chicken processing through to construction - so since its more widespread and there is no occupational status attached then it isn’t newsworthy.

The common them seems to relate to office workers, maybe even just journalism, as if the rest of the population does not suffer these conditions.

We also have the reverse where gout is supposed to be something associated with the wealthy and privileged but again it isn’t, however it is one condition that seems not to confer some sort of status, more a kind of judgemental thing against the rich.
I’m sure there are more of these ‘status’ health issues

My mom had CTS surgery in the 1980s - it was caused by her piano playing.

Given your patient population (assuming you’re still a prison doctor), what leads to so much of it?

I’ll add that I frequently had to deal with CTS issues in my workplace because of doorknobs. CTS sufferers would complain about finding it difficult to open doors by twisting the knobs and pulling. Due to ADA and the CTS complaints we received, we upgraded many doors with lever handles, which pretty much solved the problem and eliminated the complaints. Lever handles on door hardware sets are now standard, but I’m pretty confident that the migration to lever handles starting in the 1990s was a significant factor in slowing down the incidence (and the severity) of CTS.

Can’t prove it, but it seems like a reasonable assumption.

Maybe it was renamed in the way “emphysema” is now COPD.

Nope, it’s still CTS.

And emphysema and COPD were always two different things. Emphysema is a clinical finding on exam, COPD is a diagnosis of a particular lung disease which has emphysema as one of its findings.

Thrusting office manager?

For what it’s worth, I haven’t really noticed it going away. I mean, it’s not talked about as much in the media, but it’s certainly around, judging by the people I know who have had surgery for it in the last few years. I don’t have carpal tunnel myself that I know of (never talked to the doctor about it), but I have to change mousing hands and sometimes type exclusively with my left (non-dominant) hand after using a keyboard for an extended period of time. Worst that ever happened to me was about 20 years ago, I was at my job working in Photoshop and my right hand just wasn’t able to click the mouse button with my fingers. I had to literally slam my entire hand on the button to click it, before remembering that moving the mouse to the left hand (which I hadn’t done before) was an option. Only happens with my right hand, though.

My impression is, it used to be common to misuse the term “carpal tunnel syndrome” and use it to refer to other types of repetitive strain injury. True?