A year or two ago my wrists began to hurt and I became slightly concerned. I didn’t have the option of spending less time at the computer, because that’s what I do for work, so I had to find a way to continue using the computer without making my wrists hurt. I talked to a friend who spoke highly of his keyboard tray from HumanScale.com, but I wanted a solution for home and at work and the keyboard trays cost more than I wanted to pay ($295).
The first thing I did was switch to using the mouse with my left hand. I’m left-handed, so it was an easy switch to make, but I know right-handed people who started mousing lefty to keep their wrist from hurting. It takes very little time to get used to the change, and it’s easy to switch back to using a right-handed mouse if you’re using someone else’s computer. That alone reduced the pain in my right wrist significantly.
The second thing I did was to move the keyboard to my lap. Buying a keyboard tray has essentially the same effect, but this is a more economical solution. In the instructions on how to sit and the computer equipment guidelines they say that the keyboard height should allow your shoulders to be relaxed. When I read that, I realized that with the keyboard on the table, my shoulders were slightly tense as I typed. Over the course of the day, I’m sure it caused my neck and shoulder muscles to be tense up and may have contributed to my wrist discomfort. The moment I moved the keyboard to my lap there was an immediate and noticeable difference; my shoulders and wrists were relaxed.
The general idea is to keep straight lines throughout your body, meaning your back, shoulders, legs and arms. By doing so your whole body will be relaxed and comfortable. I highly recommend moving the keyboard lower if you are in pain after spending a few hours on the computer.
The last change I made was to switch to a trackball to keep my wrist from having to move around with a mouse. It took a few days to get used to it, but the lack of movement in my wrist was well worth the effort of switching.
I rarely have sore wrists now that I’ve made the aforementioned changes, but occasionally they’ll get a little tight or uncomfortable. When this happens, the stretching techniques for the wrist and forearms loosen them up again and are quite effective.
It’s also a good idea to take frequent breaks when you’re working at the computer. It’s hard at times when you’re immersed in what you’re doing, but it helps reduce eye strain, muscle fatigue and tension and it’s also a good way to get some blood flowing to the brain to get your ideas flowing.
Thankfully, I didn’t have anything serious like this guy had. If your wrists are swollen and causing you extreme discomfort like he experienced, you should talk with your doctor immediately to see what your options are.
If you think you may be getting Tendonitis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, here are some useful links.
The Typing Injury FAQ.
Google Answers on Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
General information about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome, a guide for computer keyboard users.
I learned the dvorak keyboard layout a while ago and while I wouldn’t say it’s a magic bullet, I do notice that my hands move a lot less while I type since the most used letters are on the home row.
I’ve also found it helpful to take Rubik’s cube breaks when my wrists start aching. I think all the twisting is good for stretching out the muscles.
I’d like to get a trackball, though. I used one a few years ago and actually quite liked it (once I got the hang of it). I’m just too cheap to buy one until my mouse dies. :^)
As with any position, stay in it long enough and it will start hurting. Even lying on your back will hurt eventually. I think the key to your solution is the fact that you’re mixing it up. Changing mouse hands, types of mice (trackball) and moving the position of your keyboard. Even the slightest difference is probably extending the life of your wrists and hands. It’s just great that you’ve found something that works.
One thing I did was to remap the Tab, Shift, and Ctrl keys to the top of the keyboard so I wouldn’t have to continually twist my left wrist counterclockwise. Picture here: http://jonaquino.blogspot.com/2005/02/poor-mans-kinesis-keyboard.html
After I started getting shooting pains in my right arm I started using a laptop mouse instead of a full sized one. Made all the difference in the world.
Hydrotherapy and Tai Chi. Combined with what you have written – makes a huge difference. I really notice it when I haven’t gone to class for either one.
Thanks for the really useful info! :)
qudsielf: You’re very welcome.
Just a helpful link, Tendonitis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome doctors can be found at http://www.mdjunction.com. Hope that helps.
I found that after I started using ergonomic keyboards, I stopped having wrist and finger stress.
Ironically, the discomfort that I was experiencing was mostly in my elbows and shoulders from having to strain my arms inward to type on a “traditional” keyboard.
Replaced my keyboards with ergo: problems solved.
– Joe Levi, http://www.JoeLevi.com
I’m a big fan of ergonomic keyboards. They’re much more comfortable for me to type on than traditional keyboards. However, with laptops you don’t have that option. I wonder if an ergonomic laptop keyboard is possible…
In response to Dan, you could plug in a regular keyboard of choice and basically use your laptop as a monitor. To prevent neck and upper back strain, place your “monitor” at a comfortable height for your eyes and head, rather than pressing your head forward.
Depending on the length of a persons’ arms, using your lap as a “desk” for a keyboard is very helpful for keeping your shoulders relaxed and this is exactly what I do, too. But, some folks have shorter upper arms. Perhaps for them, using a keyboard tray or a table designed to set on laps (has a beanbag bottom) for laptop use would give them the extra inch or two they need.
Regarding changing the mouse from right to left hand, eventually the only hand that is being used will begin to get aggravated. Switching back and forth will help prevent that. Another position for the mouse (besides straight in front of your shoulder) is in front of the middle of your body. Variety is the spice of life!
Thank you for a very good and useful article for preventing and treating carpal tunnel symptoms. Appreciated!
Kathryn Merrow – The Pain Relief Coach