March 25, 2022 12:06 AM   Subscribe

I picked up a couple of super exciting freelance writing gigs this month and boy howdy have they shown me I got problems with RSI in my hands. What tips have you fellow long term keyboard jockeys got for me in terms of keeping my damn hands functional?

I've been writing seriously now for the last three years but it's all been short term contracts for short form stuff, or things that require a lot of reading along with the writing. So it's taken this long for me to actually develop some serious RSI.

It seems to be across the back of both hands, so something tendon related, with additional pain in my right fingers too. My wrists and elbows are fine, though I get a bit of bicep pain on my right arm if I have a big day on the mouse, too. Both hands are pretty mangled by the end of the week, with my right by far worse. I just turned forty, for what it's worth.

I think my desk setup is fine. I got that good selection of right angles (foot, knee, hip) and a chair with a nice back and armrests that align my hands well to the board. I love my keyboard - it's a Logitech G613 mechanical gaming board so the haptics are fantastic - but I'd love to hear from other folks about how they're managing to keep their hands limber.

I touch type and have worked with gel wrist pads but really hate them, to be honest. I have a pad on my mouse and that helps. One of my big issues is typing technique, I think. I touch type but only my left hand stays on or around home - righty floats, thanks to years in retail where I'd be hopping from the letter part of the keyboard over to the numpad pretty much constantly so righty's a wild, freewheeling hand that can't be tied down to your rules, man. My WPM is somewhere around a 100 when I'm on a roll, but tends to hover between 60-80, if that means much in this instance.

I do typically hand stretching exercises through the day when I remember, which I don't, because I have this one fantastic contract doing creative work and I get on a roll and oops, I've been hacking away at the keyboard for two and a half hours and ah, that's sub par. I can just about manage a break once an hour but not always, because flow is valuable y'all.

What I'd love to hear:

-things you have tried personally that have worked.
-tips to retrain Righty to stay on the keyboard because 25 years of bad habits are tough to break by will alone.
-opinions on various keyboard options, because while I love my keyboard and how it feels to work on, my partner (a programmer) suspects the extra force required for mechanical switches is contributing. Realistically I'm probably striking the keys a little harder too because the sound the board makes is very satisfying, especially when I'm at speed. Like my guys it sounds like Riverdance here. Anyway, I'm open to trying a new board if there's evidence to suggest a gentler board is needed.
-ways to remind yourself sit up properly and do exercises regularly, because my posture's pretty dreadful too.
-any hacks you might have to help manage pain because I also paint, draw, crochet and knit and can't do that at all right now and that in and of itself is a serious mental health issue.
-Is there an ap for this? Is there like, a Zombies Run! for RSI hand exercises or some shit I can get in on?

What I don't need:

-suggestions to seek out a physio because I have neither time nor funds right now
-Amazon links to stuff that might help (I'm in Australia and don't buy from Amazon anyway.)
posted by Jilder to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm a software developer with work-life balance issues. I switched to the Microsoft Sculpt wireless ergonomic keyboard (Microsoft link to show you which keyboard I mean) a few years ago, to address problems with my hands. I had pain associated with using the left little finger for Control and Shift, and some fine motor control issues (which turned out to be neck-related, but the keyboard change still helped). Different problems from yours, but when I have to use a laptop keyboard for a bit, I can feel how much more strain it puts across the back of my hands to have them horizontal, which makes me think it might help you too. A bonus is that I don't need the number pad, which means I can have the mouse much closer to me than a conventional keyboard permits.

Other ergonomic keyboards I tried didn't suit; this one hits the sweet spot, ergonomic enough to help, but also similar enough to a normal keyboard to make the transition fairly easy. (It still took a couple of weeks.) It is not clicky-clacky and that will make you sad, but I find the tradeoff is worth it.

Regarding the mouse: if you can get one in Australia, the Puk wrist rest (link to a New Zealand retailer, which is at least in the right hemisphere) is brilliant. It cradles the heel of your hand as you use the mouse, and skates across the desk as easily as the mouse does. So it allows a full range of movement, which is much more comfortable than using a wrist rest that stays put.

As for posture: the only thing I've been able to find that really helps with my posture is desk height. If the desk height is such that I can have my feet flat on the floor and my arms in a comfortable position for typing, I maintain a reasonable posture; otherwise, I just don't. I seem to be incapable of remaining mindful of my posture; I need the desk setup to be such that my default posture while using it is an ergonomic one. Right now I'm achieving this with a standing desk.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:20 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

I massage the muscles in my forearms and drink more water. The muscles that power your fingers need some help to recover.

I also vary posture with a sit/stand desk and intend to move at worst every 45 minutes.
posted by k3ninho at 3:17 AM on March 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

Various iterations of RSI here. Things that have helped:

* Ergonomic keyboard — I’ve used various over the years, most often the Microsoft Wave.

* Adjustable-height desk — I bought a handle-crank-adjust model from IKEA (Skarsta/Trotten, I think).

* A marble mouse instead of a mouse. I tried various trackballs, but this one did the trick. Switch hands every so often.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:21 AM on March 25, 2022

Vertical mouse. I was seriously considering having surgery to help my RSI (advised by my doctor), tried a vertical mouse at a client's office, thought 'Hmm', bought a cheap one, and after a few weeks the RSI was gone. That was six years ago and I haven't had a twinge since. I realise I sound like a mad evangelist but it's the closest thing to a healthcare miracle I've ever experienced.

The Anker vertical mice are a decent cheap introductory model (AU$25).

Best of luck with it. RSI is horrible.
posted by Hogshead at 3:33 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My job involves a lot of typing and I also play piano, so I do get RSI symptoms from time to time. These are my hacks, based on the advice of a physiatrist friend, when I have a flare (usually tingly weirdness in my case).

* rigid splints while sleeping (she checked and okayed my wrist guards from inline skating days). Ideally I should use them while typing as well, but they get in the way too much.
* nerve glides/flosses like these
* a keyboard angled away from me so my wrists aren't cocked up (I can't stand gel pads either)
* keyboard shortcuts instead of mousing, as much as possible

Good luck!
posted by pendrift at 3:49 AM on March 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I full on had this great ergo mouse and it died after ten years (I bought it the week Skyrim came out because it had heaps of side buttons and and I was gunna dedicate one of them to SHOOT DEER IN THE FACE) and I only replaced it like six months ago, so I guess I'm gunna have to find a similar replacement.

"a keyboard angled away from me so my wrists aren't cocked up (I can't stand gel pads either)"

Jesus Christ, I've got my board at like a 45 degree angle towards me. Flattening that fucker out right now, thanks. I learned to type on full on old manual typewriters like the side of fucking Everest and have typed at what is clearly an idiotic angle ever since and I've corrected that and holy shit maete the difference in the last ten minutes typing this is incredible. MY DUDE. It had not even slightly occurred to me that the angle might be a thing.
posted by Jilder at 4:07 AM on March 25, 2022 [7 favorites]

Based on what you've said about angle, you should try an online guide to ergonomic computer workstation setup. There could be all sorts of different situations that we can't guess at with your hands, elbows, shoulders and they all compensate for each other, so running through a full guide is a good baseline.

Also, I strongly recommend trying voice to text. Use Google keyboard on a smartphone if you're not sure where to start. I love it, and if I were smarter I'd get something similar on my computer too, but instead I just send email from my phone. There's no substitute for rest once you're injured, and voice to text lets your hands rest without forcing you to stop writing.

Ergonomic fixes are an important start but the ergonomist who I got to consult with when I was having a bunch of bad RSI issues said something that's stuck with me about my hunt for a silver bullet: "there is no motion you can repeat fifty thousand times a day without doing damage".
posted by Lady Li at 5:03 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've been doing this long-to-explain but quick-to-do routine of joint warmups and my wrists have improved as a side effect.

Also, yes, wrists above fingers — and hands at shoulder width, and palms faced slightly towards each other. There are split ergo keyboards that can accomplish all of those.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:40 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, try to get in the habit of taking your hands off the keyboard when you're resting or thinking or reading. Just holding a fixed hand/arm position for a long time is hard on your body, even if you're not moving your fingers.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:43 AM on March 25, 2022

I work at a computer all day and have had some pretty bad RSI pain over the years. Stretching and good keyboard setup are important, but so is taking breaks. Get software that prompts you to take breaks (WorkRave is one) regularly with a mix of minibreaks (something like 10 seconds every 5 minutes - make sure to remove hands from keyboard/mouse!) and longer breaks (say, 5 minutes every hour, or more frequently if pain isn't improving).
Is it frustrating to lose some of your flow? Yes. Is it a frustrating to have an RSI that gets so bad you never fully recover? Way more yes.
posted by Advanced_Waffler at 7:21 AM on March 25, 2022

"a keyboard angled away from me so my wrists aren't cocked up (I can't stand gel pads either)"

Jesus Christ, I've got my board at like a 45 degree angle towards me. Flattening that fucker out right now, thanks.

I dunno - that makes my wrists worse - my wrists are happiest with my keyboard tilted towards me, using a gel pad wrist rest. So I think everyone's different and you just have to try a few things and see what works for you. Likewise, a vertical mouse made my RSI much worse - a flat mouse and a gel wrist pad works best for me.

In the short term, icing the sore bits works best for me for immediate relief. Also get up from your chair for a few minutes every hour and do some stretches and massage (plenty of examples on YouTube, again, try and few and see which suit you best). General 'good for the body' stuff like yoga on a regular basis because often it's related to poor posture or weakness elsewhere (back, shoulders, core etc).
posted by penguin pie at 9:23 AM on March 25, 2022

Icing backfired badly for me because it just let me do more damage without noticing it. Painkillers ditto. And then i had to take serious time off. It’s a hard trade off.

Lots of posture exercise helped me enormously (eventually pilates, but walking with relaxed free movement is really helpful). plus getting much pickier about ergo layout, plus breaks. Can you use physical breaks for some other part of mental flow? Saying sentences out loud pre-editing, drawing out argument or algorithm structures on BIG paper or whiteboard with BIG LOOSe arm gestures?

Also I think sounding like Riverdance might not be a safe aesthetic for you right now. I had a coworker with a sort of mystic dryad typing style, it looked like they just fanned their hands gently over the keyboard and code rustled into existence. I copied them on purpose. It helped. It also helped that the effect is really cool because are we twelve? Yes.
posted by clew at 12:43 PM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Soooooo in grad school I started to have RSI problems and ended up switching to the Dvorak keyboard layout. (There's also Colemak, which is more similar to QWERTY but features some of the same benefits.) I'm a very good touch typist, like you.

Upsides to this strategy:

* It's more or less free, money wise.
* It's built into the computer OS you are using (unless you're somehow not on Mac, Linux, or Windows). You don't actually have to buy a new keyboard or anything to make this work. I've been typing this way for over a decade and my keyboards are still all QWERTY labeled.
* The best way I can describe the difference between typing QWERTY and typing Dvorak is that typing QWERTY always felt like a complicated but satisfying dance. I have small hands which probably doesn't help. So typing always meant twisting my hands around a bunch to hit the right keys. This could at times be really enjoyable fun but turns out it's also very wearing. Typing in Dvorak is much more boring. I hardly ever have to do the same finger gymnastics I routinely did in QWERTY. I'm not a faster typer in Dvorak, I'm a lazier typer.
* You've switched over, you're a weirdo that types using a different keyboard layout, but sometimes you end up on a computer in QWERTY and can't switch the layout for some reason. Well, keyboards out in the wild are all helpfully labeled with QWERTY and you'll have a smear of memory about what it was like and you'll do okay. Additionally, DVORAK on phones sucks (it's good to have the vowels far apart, autocorrect becomes even weirder and worse when they're not and has been trained on QWERTY patterns) so you will get to have the layout kept refreshed in your brain that way.
* If you want to break the current touch typing habits you have that you don't like, forcing yourself to learn Dvorak would be an excellent way to do so.
* There are online tutorials:, apparently this thing on edclub


* You'll have a direct and palpable hit to your typing speed while learning and it will feel frustrating to be so slow when you KNOW you could be faster if you just switched back. I think it took me two weeks before I felt like I was typing at speeds that didn't make me feel like I was trying to type with mittens.
* Some normal computer commands like Ctrl-C/Cmd-C become more inconvenient to do and can no longer be done one handed; there are ways around this (layouts where it's in QWERTY when ctrl/command are being pressed, etc) but I just live with it.
* People that need to use your computer are going to be confused. You need to remember to switch the layout before they start doing things.
* If I remember correctly my problem originated in my wrists and yours is the tendons on the top of your hand so who knows if this strategy would do you good.
posted by foxfirefey at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just something to think about: I started using a keyboard that made extremely satisfying clicking noises but required a smidge of extra force, and in just a few days it destroyed my hands. I was in serious pain, and the key press force was the only change—I was already typing at a computer all day every day with a regular old Mac keyboard, nothing special. I had to stop using my computer entirely for more than a week to let the pain resolve, and since then I’ve been back at it with my old keyboard without issue.

It’s a bummer because you’re right, those clicky keyboards are SO SATISFYING to use. But maybe give a low-travel, easy-press, dumb chiclet keyboard a test drive, just to see?
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 1:29 PM on March 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just a note from something I noticed in your update - if you're a gamer, even casually, the added hand usage can really pile up the wear-and-tear on tendons. I work all day on a computer for work, and then game for fun, and my wrist - especially the mouse side - hated me for it.

I got a lot of relief when I switched my gaming life almost entirely over to using controllers. Not just my PS5/Xbox, but also playing all my PC games with a controller (and taking a break from any that wouldn't allow that.) (Skyrim, btw, is an excellent experience on a controller!)

I'm still searching for the perfect mouse/keyboard setup for work - Outlook and Word sadly don't accept DualShock input. I've had limited success switching from a normal mouse (which has to shift around on the desk) to a thumb-ball mouse that just sits there while I move my thumb/fingers. I'm about to try out a vertical thumb ball mouse and see if that helps even more.

I agree that the tilt of the keyboard can do wonders.
posted by invincible summer at 10:23 AM on May 23, 2022

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