2006-06-27

Pain in the Wrist

Workrave

I sometimes have really bad RSI. I say RSI, but I really mean, "my right wrist is giving me a bit of pain". And I say, "really bad" as in, it's only giving me a little bit of pain.

I have friends who have gone through a similar experience, but sometimes I discover that one of my friends has not gone through what I call bad RSI, they've gone through flaming both wrists hurt like hell all day every day.

I never let myself get that bad, but it did get to the point that I saw a doctor, took a week off work, took iboprofen, and decided never to seriously use a computer again unless I had gel wrist rests.

That's why I define 'bad' as being in a little bit of pain.

I have a friend in mind who let his RSI get so bad that he quit his job, and found other employment because he was in so much pain... I was discussing wrist pain with a coworker today, and she was saying she couldn't believe how bad it got before she took 'measures', and how it starts to hurt if she even uses her computer at home, that doesn't have wrist rests.

As such, I thought I'd just list here a few of the things that I find really helpful.

  • Gel Wrist Rests. Both mouse and keyboard. Mouse is more important for me, but I need both. I use the coloured gel ones made by 'Fellowes'.
  • Workrave. When things get bad, I turn on workrave, and it reminds me to stretch every couple of consequtive minutes of work.
  • Keyboard shortcuts. Make them if there aren't any good ones in your environment.
  • If you're like me and the mouse really hurts your wrist, move to a window manager like Ion.

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1 comment:

Glyph Lefkowitz said...

I don't understand how I've managed to write hundreds of thousands of lines of code, and probably hundreds of millions of lines of IRC and AIM chat, without ever really experiencing any wrist pain. There was about a week when I worked for Electronic Arts when my wrists hurt too badly to type, but that's it. I've typed continuously (at 120wpm) for more than twelve hours per day for the last 5 years and, thank goodness, I still don't have any wrist pain right now.

Originally I thought it was just my age, but a younger friend of mine is still suffering from what can only be described as a "crippling" RSI injury.

I don't use workrave. I don't use wrist wrests. In fact, when I get a keyboard that comes with wrist rests, I generally rip them off first thing.

I don't want to say this is necessarily a good idea, because probably some of this has to do with genetics, but here are some of the things that I do to attempt to avoid RSI. Some of these things are probably a good idea in addition to the other ergonomic precautions you're taking.

I pay attention to posture, especially as it affects the inclination of my wrists. I slouch a lot more than I should, but my wrists are always well back from the keyboard so they are mostly straight. This is really the function that wrist rests serve - if you watch videos on ergonomics, they always show how tendons grate against the bone when the wrist is bent backwards and not when it's straight.

I pay attention to small discomforts. If my ring and pinky fingers start to tingle, I make sure I'm well hydrated and take a short break. If my neck is at an odd angle, I adjust my monitors and chair until it isn't. If necessary I'll stop working and go out and buy additional junk to rearrange my desk. (I haven't needed to do this since I stopped using folding tables and chairs though.)

I get keyboards with good tactile response so that I don't use an unnecessary amount of force. "ergonomic" layouts aren't worth anything if you're constantly hyperexerting your fingers because your autonomic nervous system can't instantly tell if you've pressed the key or not.

Finally - and this is something that I notice many people with really bad RSI haven't done - I use proper touch-typing technique. I keep my fingers on the home row and generally don't move them into odd positions.

As a consequence, I never, ever, ever press the "control" key in the corner of the keyboard. Try it now: put your fingers on the home row, and then move your pinky - and only your pinky - to the control key. Now, move it to the caps-lock key. Notice the difference in effort? I know a few Emacs-using RSI sufferers who don't remap their control key and it bewilders me; they're basically holding their hand in the least comfortable position possible, for hours at a time.