How to prevent typing injuries!
November 1, 2012 10:44 AM   Subscribe

I became a full-time author 2 months ago, and my hands are starting to get stiff. What do I do to prevent wrist/hand injuries?

I've always used my computer a lot, but now it's my job, so I'm typing away for 7-8 hours a day in addition to my leisure, computer-related activities. How do I do this safetly?

Due to a tiny apartment and currently low income, I'm a little restricted in terms of furniture, desk use and expensive new purchases. My wife and I alternate use of the bedroom/livingroom/office (we like to work alone), so I work for 4 hours in the kitchen in the morning and 4 hours in our bedroom in the afternoon. If there are keyboards or wrist braces or something that are helpful, that'd be most convenient.

As is, the seating situation in the kitchen kind of sucks; I've turned a wooden bench, a giant pile of memory foam pillows and a stool into some sort of lounge chair arrangement where I can put my feet up and type with my laptop on my lap. It's almost comfortable.

The bedroom is mostly comfortable; I'm typing in an IKEA Poang chair with my feet up.
posted by sdis to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Install Workrave (Windows, Unix) or AntiRSI (Mac) and use the breaks it enforces. My recommendation. If you're already injured: 30 s microbreak every 5 min, 5 min rest break every 30 min. If you're not: 30 s microbreak every 10 min, 5 min rest break every 60 min.
posted by grouse at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

What kind of keyboard do you use? Or are you just using a laptop keyboard? When I was getting wrist problems from typing straight on the laptop, I got an ergonomic keyboard (this one I think). It made all the difference, and my wrist healed and no more pain!

Another idea would be to find a nearby coffee shop or library that has comfy chairs, and use that instead of the kitchen.

The third option would be to look for some cheap, but comfortable furniture on Craiglist. You might be able to get a comfortable desk chair for $20-$40 depending on your area, and this could make the kitchen set-up better.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a headset and use voice recognition software. I think starting with Windows Vista the voice recognition software that comes with Windows is pretty adequate for most needs, but Dragon Naturally Speaking is probably a bit better and only $99 IIRC (and would be deductible as a business expense).
posted by drlith at 11:08 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since switching to a Das Keyboard, I've not had any issues with stiff hands after typing all day. I previously experienced stiffness when using Microsoft brand keyboards (but not the full sized Apple keyboards that I dislike for other reasons). It's expensive, but not for something that you use all day, every day.
posted by jeffch at 11:09 AM on November 1, 2012

What is your current keyboard? You might try investing in an ergonomic keyboard to reduce strain on your hands.

Also, watch out for shoulder-related injury. Having once owned that type of chair, I feel like it will do nothing to promote good posture. A recliner forces you to lean back, which will make you strain your shoulders to reach the keyboard.
posted by deathpanels at 11:10 AM on November 1, 2012

Stop typing on your laptop keyboard as soon as possible.

Look for an ergonomic keyboard tray. I had good luck with craigslist, but you might not, so also check ebay. I found one for $50 and screwed it under my desk. My wrists and fingers no longer ache as they once did. Memail me if you want specifics.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:10 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound like my writing-habit twin. I also start the day in the kitchen and eventually move into the bedroom.

A laptop desk was a big help for me in getting more comfortable. Something like this (there are a million models on amazon at different price points). It takes up minimal space and I generally use it with an existing comfy chair in my bedroom. I use a glider chair that I lock upright with a lumbar pillow for my lower back. Gliders are great because they're designed for nursing women and so to be sat in for hours. And you can always find them in thrift stores because people throw them out after their kids are weaned.

An external mouse stops 90% of my hand pains, which for me seem to be from using the track pad rather than using the keyboard. When it gets really bad, I plug in my microsoft ergonomic keyboard, but be warned that it both requires some practice to use and a proper desk set up because it's fairly large.

Also all of that typing in your lap with your feet up sounds horrible for your wrists and hands--and probably back, too, I hate to say. We have a poang too, but I don't write in it. Proper ergonomics means sitting up straight with both feet flat on the floor. You'd probably be better off plopping your laptop down on the counter and pulling the stool up to it, but really, you should be sitting straight no matter where you are. Full time writers often develop RSI problems (Justine Larbalestier has blogged about this quite a bit) and your hands are your livelihood. Take care of them!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:12 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keyboard suggestions:

I'm a fan of Microsoft Natural Keyboards, which work with all OSes despite the brand name:

I've never used this, but something like this would let you type without pronating your wrists:

Make sure you are taking regular breaks, even if you have to set a time every half hour for a reminder to shake out your hands and do some quick exercises. I've heard these can help with that, though I haven't used them: Maybe some other people can chime in on exercises they use.

I hardly ever recommend this to anybody, because it is an annoying, work intensive process, but if you are very desperate, time rich and money poor, you have the option of switching to Dvorak. I did it myself while in college when my wrists started hurting, and feel like it's been very good for them ever since. It's not worth it for most people (because they are already used to QWERTY and don't spend a ton of time typing and don't have RSI problems), I don't think it'll really make you a FASTER typer like some claim (I don't think I am, just a lazier typer, which is good), and it comes with its own annoyances, but if you are doing heavy typing all day, using Dvorak instead of QWERTY will mean your hands are doing much much less work overall. If you decide to do this and want more advice, just MeMail me.
posted by foxfirefey at 11:13 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

You won't believe how unbelievably helpful these exercises from David Kuckhermann are for preventing/dealing with tendonitis and carpal tunnel issues. Whenever I skip them, I get flare-ups like clockwork the next day.

And as an aside, posture plays a big role in preventing injuries like this. Doesn't matter how cushy your chair is, you should always strive to maintain proper posture and ergonomics when doing anything repetitive, especially for long periods of time. Since you work at home, there's no excuse for you not to be getting up and stretching every half hour or so. Do a few jumping jacks to get your blood flowing, run in place for a few minutes, anything, but don't work in four hour stretches like that... it's asking for trouble.

Here's a decent guide from Microsoft.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 11:19 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's an article on using speech recognition software for long-form writing.
posted by cnc at 12:28 PM on November 1, 2012

From my bride:

"That person needs an ergonomic keyboard (as mentioned already - but should be noted it will feel weird to type on at first) and they need a text expander (good list here). They also might like Autohotkey, whether they use a text expander or not - it is free and can be used as an expander but also will do many other things. And also they should get these for wearing while they type. Some transcriptionists use their expander with the VR/SR (with dictation, they just repeat what the doctor says, with their own modifications to allow for words like sclera/sclerae, for example), too."
posted by maxwelton at 1:35 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Working while lounging is potentially bad for your neck. If you sit in a weird slightly-curled posture for hours on end - even if that posture seems comfortable - you are probably holding your neck funny. A pinched nerve in your neck can then manifest as hand or wrist soreness, rather than neck pain.
posted by aimedwander at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2012

I'll second the dvorak suggestion. It will be a really frustrating week or so as you learn, but it shouldn't take too long if you're typing that much and it really will reap a huge laziness benefit.

One trick for learning that I'd share is to open an on-screen keyboard viewer that you can look at for reference when you struggle. That way you don't have to re-arrange the keycaps.
posted by Cogito at 3:38 PM on November 1, 2012

Nthing MS's natural keyboard. When I had my first intense typing job (basically, typing off of copies of reports that weren't digital), I started to have a lot of pain. I switched to the MS Natural Keyboards about 14 years ago and all the pain is gone.
posted by getawaysticks at 4:44 PM on November 1, 2012

It's super annoying, but when your wrists start to hurt you MUST stop typing. Going past the pain threshold really damages your muscles, making them stiffer for the next typing session.

This sounds like the beginning of Repeated Stress Injury. I had the same symptoms, and now use wrist braces when I'm typing. I just got them from my doctor, but I imagine you could get any of these from Amazon. I also switched to Dvorak. It took a couple of weeks, but it has genuinely helped. This is the lesson plan that I used.

Other plans I researched (but haven't tried) that might be viable are the Kinesis keyboard or dictation software like Dragon Naturally Speaking.
posted by tooloudinhere at 5:04 PM on November 1, 2012

Oh and the trackpad was killing me too so I got this marble mouse. It's done wonders.
posted by tooloudinhere at 5:08 PM on November 1, 2012

I am a person who also depends on my hands for a living. RSI is really a nightmare. By the time you start to feel symptoms, you have already done considerable damage to your hands, so the sooner you start educating yourself on ergonomics the better.

First of all, do yourself a favor and get a desk. Laptops are terrible for ergonomics for a number of reasons. For one, they are cramped, and their keyboards also have a very shallow strike depth which means lots of key bottoming aka impact.

Get a nice desk, WITH a keyboard tray so you your arms can rest at 90 degrees. Get some monitor risers and an external display so you can sit(or stand, I love standing desks) with good posture. As for the keyboard, it is your single most important investment. I have a maltron keyboard which I absolutely adore. It was not cheap, but has a number of ergonomic features which are essential to preventing RSI(notably, the keyboard is split, keys are angled correctly and set according to finger lengths, thumbs are used to prevent awkward chording, keys are aligned in a matrix so no twisting, cherry black keyswitch). The price of the keyboard was really a bargain because my hands are my livelihood. An american company called kinesis ripped off the design of the maltron(lame) but they use cherry blue keyswitchs which are awesome and they are cheaper. Other types of good ergonomic keyboards are vertical.

I suggest learning a new layout. Dvorak, colemak, or maltron work great and will reduce your finger load.

When you type, float your hands, DO NOT rest your wrists but instead keep a straight line between elbow and hand.

All of this is obviously going to cost money, but considering that RSI is a one way road which leads to disability, you have to decide on your priorities.

There are a number of exercises you can and should do, here is a short video with some novel movements which can help you learn some new pain free motor pathways. Squeezing, splaying, twisting and bending movements are all very helpful. Thera band makes some very helpful products. There hand xtrainer and flex bar are EXCELLENT and affordable ways to deal with finger and wrist pain respectively.
posted by jalitt at 9:40 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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