Ergonomic Consultant Needed
March 15, 2008 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Help my girlfriend work at home without pain!

My girlfriend is a freelancer, and so spends most of her time working on her laptop at home. Unfortunately, she also suffers from ulnar nerve syndrome, and working on her laptop aggravates it. She is currently seeing a doctor for the problem, but stopping typing is not an option. The doctor has suggested improving her workspace as an important part of her treatment. Given that all her office items are hand me downs or thirft store buys, that probably means a total overhaul.

We are looking for someone who can come in and look at her workspace and make suggestions for specific products and ideas that can help make her work day pain free. My google searches have turned up company level consultants, but nothing for freelancers who are looking for help. We are willing to pay a reasonable price for this, but obviously we don't have a corporate budget.

We live in New York City, so there must be some person or company out there who can help. Any suggestions?
posted by Maastrictian to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I also suffer from ulnar nerve problems. Has your gf tried an ergonomic "wave" keyboard? (Don't know if there are any that can be attached to a laptop, but perhaps a proper keyboard on a proper computer desk at proper typing height would help.) Also, at night she should be wearing some sort of brace that prevents her from bending her arm severely in her sleep. My mom made me a pair of "splints" from a pile of old tube socks, but you can buy similar appliances at most drugstores if you're not craftily inclined.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2008

I second the ergonomic keyboard idea-- I used to work from home as a transcriptionist and was typing on a laptop until I started getting shooting pains in my wrists. Switching to an ergonomic keyboard definitely helped.
posted by perpetualstroll at 1:03 PM on March 15, 2008

the IKEA Galant desk system has adjustable legs which would be a good not-too-expensive complement to the ergonomic keyboard.
posted by at 1:42 PM on March 15, 2008

Definitely try out a different keyboard and one of those wrist supports. It's sort of funny, I'm typing this after having medial epicondylectomy surgery yesterday to fix my ulnar nerve entrapment. Symptoms started about 2 months ago, right when I changed offices. I think I've traced it down to my new desk being at an odd height with an overly rounded bevel right where my elbow rests, and my new chair having strange armrests. I'm definitely swapping my new office furniture back to my old stuff when I get back in the office.
posted by sanka at 1:44 PM on March 15, 2008

I'm not a doctor but I worked with on computers for the last ~10 years and this is what helps me the most, in order of importance: 1. stretching of hands. I do exercises for about an hour or two every day and as part of them I stretch my hands, including every finger, quite vigorously. I do some asana exercise then hand-stretching, them some more asanas, then again some stretching, so that it adds up to total of about 10-15 minutes over these two hours. This makes my hands and fingers very strong and thus not only prevents pain but also allows me to type very quickly for long periods of time. 2. (close 2nd) I have a old clicky-style buckle spring ibm keyboard, famous model M. It was made in '87 and is still going strong. I bought it used on ebay. (really about 10 of them, for $30 for the lot, albeit most of them very dirty from school use). Beats all new keyboards except for some very expensive near-$100 ones that duplicate the same key mechanism. I heard that mechanical keyboards can also be very good. The idea of this keyboard is that key offers significant resistance as it travels down but at some point near the end it continues down almost without resistance, (when the spring buckles), so that your finger feels that key made the contact, and learns the precise effort needed to accomplish that. In addition, it also makes a light clicking sound when it makes contact, so that you know when you miss a key. On ordinary keyboards, you will always apply too much strength hitting the key to make sure that it makes the contact, on model M keyboards you spend smaller effort because you know that if contact is not made, you will immediately notice it.

Laptop keyboards are only suitable for very light amounts of input, I would not use a laptop for more than 15-20 minutes of typing a day. Even a simple basic keyboard would be a huge improvement - a buckle spring keyboard is another huge improvement, so I think she'll be fine if she buys one..
posted by rainy at 1:59 PM on March 15, 2008

You want a physical therapist to do this evaluation. In my area of suburban Chicago, there are a lot of rehab/physical therapy places opening up next door to gyms. Maybe there is such a place near to you? I would just go in and ask if one of their staff would do such a consultation.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:14 PM on March 15, 2008

I'm not familiar with the condition (nor with NYC), but if typing is aggravating it, why not give speech recognition software a shot? If she is running Windows XP, I highly recommend Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I know a bunch of people with broken wrists or wrist conditions, and it has helped them considerably. Even if it is just used for opening and closing programs, and text input, that should give her wrists a break.
I believe that Vista has this built in (though I've never tried it), and that Mac OS has a multitude of options.
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 3:00 PM on March 15, 2008

New, full-size keyboard - which she MUST go to a store and try out before buying, because the spread has to be right for her hands. This is not a piano keyboard, after all.

And, you might also want to consider a WACCOM to replace the mouse. Seriously, it makes a big difference.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:05 PM on March 15, 2008

In addition to getting a keyboard, get the screen into a comfortable spot. This can be done as cheaply as perching the laptop on an old soapbox, or ideally getting a bigger and better external monitor. Get a copyholder if that's appropriate for her work, and adequate lighting.

Is there one of those Relax the Back stores in your area? I'll bet they could put you in touch with an ergonomics consultant.
posted by adamrice at 4:27 PM on March 15, 2008

Here is an excellent link. That little picture is right-on. Make it happen.

Designing an ergonomic setup is not rocket science, but it takes a lot of attention to detail, and a willingness to try and try again. Don't settle for a setup that doesn't work for the individual.

Think creatively! For example:

Mousing is hard. You want your elbow close by your side so your shoulder doesnt' have to hold the arm out. At one company I was at (scanning company - lots of repetitive work!) for we found a good solution to have mice close by, and not out to the side: TV trays, which can be placed conveniently close to someone's body, and are easily maneuverable depending on the person. To support the elbow while mousing, a 9x12 envelope with an appropriately-sized stack of paper inside makes an easily-created rest for one's arm. Easily variable depending on the person.

Take 5 second microbreaks every 5 minutes. I set an Outlook reminder, then every 5 minutes I get up and stretch my arms in the air for 5 seconds, then snooze the alarm for another 5 minutes.

Wish I were in NY and could suggest someone for you. Keep looking. Maybe one of these bay area people can suggest someone in the NYC area? Gary Karp. Kathy Bender (annoying music warning).
posted by quinoa at 6:33 PM on March 15, 2008

OSHA does what you're asking for via their website "OSHA ergonomics solutions computer workstations etool ." You can transform the laptop into a workstation by using a laptop stand, an external keyboard, and an external mouse or trackball.
posted by plokent at 10:06 PM on March 15, 2008

I had tendonitis in my wrist that got quite severe after a while, where I could barely move my hand without shooting pain. It eventually went away with:

Getting a gel rest pad thing for the wrist that uses the mouse, and the keyboard. She needs to make sure her wrist is comfortably resting ON the gelpad as she works though. In addition, ever 5 mins, I'd roll, depress and grind my wrist and palm with some pressure, onto and into the gel pad. It worked like a basic massage, and I found I could get some real pressure points gently massaged that way!

Also, I went and saw a physiotherapist who specialized in wrist/elbow injuries (racquet players, rowers, and well, ME). He gave me some exercises with resistance bands that were simple and only needed about 2 minutes a day to do. They helped tremendously, I can't begin to tell you how much this helped. He also taught me how to tape up my hand to minimize movement for a couple of weeks, so even though I could type, it was preventing much movement from palm of hand to between wrist and elbow. This was good because during the course of a day, I was doing things without thinking, like picking up a full cup of coffee, which would strain it.

My masseuse also gave me regular massage, and I learnt that it's the forearm that needs deep massage, not the actual hands and wrists. This was fantastic - and once I figured out the exact stress points, I could give myself mini forearm massages!

Within about 3 months, it all went away, with care.
posted by miz brown at 6:27 AM on March 17, 2008

I just came across your question by accident when searching the internet for something else, but I just happen to be an ergonomics consultant based in New York City. I can visit her home office to help her out with this for a reasonable fee. Please visit my website:

My contact info is there, and you can email me directly if you are interested in a workstation assessment for your girlfriend.

posted by Hayley K at 1:43 PM on April 25, 2008

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