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Do smartphones cause carpal tunnel?

Whether you are walking down the street, at work or out shopping, seeing someone head down staring at a phone has become a common phenomenon. According to the Pew Research Center, just over three-quarters of the U.S. population now owns a smartphone. Americans use their phones to watch videos, shop, look for jobs and to date.

With so many people on their phones so much of time, some have raised concerns that all this repetitive motion could lead to conditions like carpal tunnel. For employers who provide their workers with smartphones, this could lead to potential workers’ compensation claims.

What is carpal tunnel?

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a passage in your wrist, known as the carpal tunnel, is narrowed, usually due to swelling. The narrowed passageway puts pressure on the median nerve that runs through your arm. This nerve controls feeling and movement in all finger, except the pinky. Symptoms include pain, lack of feeling or tingling in your fingers.

Studies indicate heavy use could be an issue

Numerous studies have been conducted examining the link between computer use and carpal tunnel syndrome. Most of these studies have concluded that using a computer does not cause carpal tunnel, except when mouse use is extremely heavy.

Though there have not been as many studies conducted regarding smartphones, the results that do exist seem to indicate about the same conclusion as the computer studies. According to WebMD, a small study indicated that using smartphones and other handheld electronic devices could increase the likelihood of experiencing carpal tunnel. However, only very heavy users seemed to experience these symptoms. For this study, heavy use meant spending more than five hours a day on a smartphone.

Symptoms could be indicative of other issues

Other experts believe the pain people experience from smartphone use may not be carpal tunnel at all. One orthopedic surgeon found that many of his patients that thought they had carpal tunnel had arthritis, tendinitis or even a largely harmless cyst.

Providing an employee with a smartphone does not necessarily mean an employer is dooming an employee to a carpal tunnel diagnosis. Most employees are probably not using their smartphones for work-related business more than five hours a day. If an employee does experience symptoms of carpal tunnel, it also possible he or she is suffering from another issue. Before approving a workers’ compensation claim, an employer should make sure the worker’s claim is thoroughly investigated.

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