A small metal rod enters Daniel Burns' right hand through a dime-size hole in his wrist and exits through another in his palm.

Black-and-white images of ligaments and tendons in his wrist appear on a television monitor above the operating table like tiny threads magnified thousands of times.Surgeon Thomas M. Due watches the monitor as he inserts a scalpel through one end of the rod and starts to cut through a ligament in the patient's hand.

Suddenly, the threadlike image jumps across the screen as the surgeon's knife slices through the ligament. The surgery is over no more than 15 minutes after it began.

The operation is the newest method for treating carpal tunnel syndrome, the fastest-growing workplace injury in the country.

The disorder occurs when too much pressure is placed on the nerve that runs through the wrist. It's often caused by repetitive motion of the hands. People who work on assembly lines, handle small tools or punch computer keyboards are especially at risk.

The endoscopic surgery that Burns went through appears to correct the disorder without causing the patient too much pain, said Due, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hand surgery.

Patients can return to work two or three weeks after the outpatient operation, while the other surgical procedure used to correct the disorder requires six weeks of recovery, Due said.

Three days after Burns' surgery at St. Luke Hospital West in Florence, Ky., his hand remained sore but had healed enough for him to squeeze a small ball. He hopes to return to work in a couple of weeks.

"Every day it feels better," said the 51-year-old carpenter.

Due has performed the procedure on nine patients over the past month at St. Luke West and St. Elizabeth Medical Center North in Covington, Ky. He said it's too early to determine how effective the surgery will be, but he's encouraged by the results so far.

A government study released last November found that the number of repetitive stress disorders jumped by 28 percent in 1989, accounting for nearly all of the increase in workplace injuries.

The study by the U.S. Labor Department said that nearly 147,000 American workers reported that they suffer from repetitive stress disorders, including carpal tunnel syndrome.