How Do I Keep My Wrists Happy?
May 31, 2016 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I am embarking on a new career that is totally dependent on my wrists (and arms, shoulders, and fingers), and I'm interested in taking any steps I can reasonably take to maintain wrist health! Do you have any advice/experience in wrist issues?

I'm starting to become a little paranoid about protecting my wrists since they're the most essential tool for my soon-to-happen dream job: for example, I want to start rock climbing and learning yoga, but would these put more strain on my most important joint? Is my computer typing position going to cause me carpal tunnel in five years? Do I bend my wrists too much in my sleep?

I am interested in advice on:

-preventing overuse injuries while working (the soon-to-be career is sign language interpreting, by the way...)

-any forms of exercise or activities that would be beneficial to wrist strength/health (or harmful and thus should be avoided)

-any preventative measures (e.g. sleeping with wrist braces on, etc)

-any good habits to develop or bad habits to watch out for/avoid

-problems/symptoms/red flags to watch out for or seek treatment for

-anything else related to wrist, arm, finger, or shoulder health that you think might be even the slightest bit helpful

Obviously I don't WANT to obsess, but I think I would feel better armed with more information and better habits to begin with. I am also googling a lot, but if you have resources you've found helpful, I'll take those suggestions too. Thanks in advance!
posted by carlypennylane to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Best tidbit first: Microbreaks were a big step forward for me. I'd always tried to take a break every hour (or less when it was bad), but taking a short break every 5 minutes — which I learned about because my break software AntiRSI had it by default — made a big qualitative difference. The default, which I kept, is 13 secs every 5 minutes, and 8 minutes an hour that I sometimes delay a little while. The microbreak gives you a moment to reshuffle, shift a little, maybe sit up, take a breath, or loosen up a funny clench in your neck or hands, etc. — and you didn't notice me take one right before typing that dash.

I don't ever take a pain killer before typing, so I don't injure myself without realizing. Anti-inflammatory can be ok at night and can help heal, but take it easy and don't make it a long-term habit. I've seen friends create stomach problems worse than the pain they were dealing with.

It's fine to work the hands strenuously — and bad to avoid using them, because they'll get weaker. At my worst, I avoided doorknobs because that hurt, too. When my doc told me to stop avoiding them, things got better. I was advised against splints, too.

Vigorous exercise is nice for everything in life.
posted by spbmp at 4:38 PM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've been doing some exercises three times a week as part of a warm-up routine for tai chi. Prior to that I had ganglion cysts in one wrist, and arthritis in my fingers and other joints; since exercising regularly the ganglion cysts are gone and I've no more arthritis. I worked as a programmer for 30+ years, so spent way too much time at the keyboard.

For wrists we use this set of exercises:

- make a fist then flick the fingers out, repeat multiple times
- with arms and hands out (palms down) bend wrists up so palms face forwards, then bend wrists down; return to hands out then bend wrists right then left; repeat this up-down-side-side 3 or 4 times, then do the same along the diagonals
- keeping arms in same position, rotate the wrists so the hands make circles 3 or 4, then the same with reverse circles
- shake/flap hands at wrists up and down a dozen or more times, then the same side-to-side; do this with arms out and hands in front, then with arms down, then with arms up and hands above head

Really you should exercise your whole body, rather than just the arms. The warm-up exercises my tai chi teacher uses actually work through all the joints, starting with toes, ankles, knees and hips, then (as above) the fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders, and they're easier to do than to describe; they've made a huge difference to my bodily well-being.
posted by anadem at 5:29 PM on May 31, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Do not, whatever you do, make a habit of wearing wrist braces, even to sleep. They cause more troubles than they solve when worn long term, as your joints will weaken and freeze up.

Don't baby your wrists -- yoga is great for joint strength and flexibility, rock climbing is fine as long as you are careful like you would be doing any sport. I know several sign language interpreters, and they do yoga and ride motorcycles and all kinds of things. You'll be fine.

Do set up your workspace ergonomically: monitor set so you're looking straight ahead, keyboard at a good height and distance that you don't flex or bend your wrists to get to it, not too close or too far away from your body, and a chair that has lumbar support that allows both feet to rest flat on the ground.
posted by ananci at 5:32 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a trackball on each of my two work computers, and I swap them with the keyboard from time to time. (Like, sometimes I've gone years with the trackball on one side and the keyboard on the other, then switched them every few months.) The Mac laptop only has a trackpad, and using it is murder on my wrist. :7(

Also: sit up straight!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:22 PM on May 31, 2016

Be careful when you are switching work modes, too.

For exmaple, when I do a long weekend of yard work, I am happy to be out of the office -- but when it's jarring work like shoveling or digging, my wrists are very sore the next few days that I am back in the office. I know I should take it easier when I am using the shovel, too, but...I don't.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:24 PM on May 31, 2016

Best answer: Yoga is the only thing that has consistently helped me with my chronic wrist issues. Aerobic exercise of any kind is also good, to keep the blood circulating.

Joint problems can sneak up on you, so don't ignore any discomfort. If you start feeling even a tingle, stop, rest, consider taking an OTC anti-inflammatory drug like naproxen (Aleve). If you're feeling discomfort, alternating between heat and cold is also effective (ice pack / hot water on your wrists).
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:26 PM on May 31, 2016

> sit up straight

but be aware that if you aren't used to it, trying to sit with good posture for hours on end can overtax your back & shoulders. Breaks are for all of you, not just your hands/wrists/arms.

Qigong is another movement regimen, related to Tai Chi. It helped me a lot with RSI. It got me moving again when I didn't want to move at all because everything hurt.
posted by morganw at 9:10 PM on May 31, 2016

Getting a vertical mouse for my various computers was really important for me.
posted by town of cats at 7:29 AM on June 1, 2016

The best treatment I have ever found for RSI was moderate weight training. Using the muscles and joints in different ways seems to matter more than resting them for me.
posted by srboisvert at 8:07 AM on June 1, 2016

Best answer: Lots of good advice here!

If you can manage the cost, see if there are any massage therapists (MTs) in your area who specialize in arm, wrist, and hand work. MTs with a background in active isolated stretching (a modality often used in sports massage) are a big plus. Also, sometimes you can find people who double as MTs and occupational therapists; you're likelier to get helpful advice from them about how to manage your wrist issues day-to-day. Call around the MTs in your area and ask plenty of questions. You'll want someone who has a rock-solid understanding of anatomy and physiology. Generally speaking, you won't find these people working at spas.

If you're not interested in full-body work, see if you can find an MT who will schedule 30-minute sessions focusing on your arms/wrists/hands only; not all MTs will do this, but if you commit to multiple sessions in advance, you'll have more luck.
posted by duffell at 8:26 AM on June 1, 2016

I'd do a few sessions with a physical therapist who specializes in ergonomics/strength/alignment. They will help you figure out the correct postures and positions to work in, and what exercised to do to strengthen your wrist and adjacent muscle groups.
posted by radioamy at 10:47 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This book, Conquering Carpal Tunnel, is full of great stretches for your hands/arms/wrists/shoulders. If I could go back in time I would get it years and years ago and do these stretches regularly. I think preventive stretching and keeping the muscles in that area loose will do a lot to prevent issues.
posted by john_snow at 12:53 PM on June 1, 2016

I find it to be much easier on my wrist to use a pen/tablet rather than a mouse.
posted by freezer cake at 4:47 PM on June 1, 2016

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