Hardware

Tips on avoiding hand and wrist pain while keyboarding


If you're like me, you spend hours at the keyboard. You probably, though, don't think of yourselves as classical pianists such as Andre Watts, Lang Lang or Phillipe Entremont. Nor do you likely equate your keyboarding with a Beethoven concerto. However, you may have experienced the pain that comes from such keyboarding. It's no fun, and it can hurt your productivity. What's worse, it can lead to serious and perhaps permanent injury.

Typing a PC keyboard has many similarities to playing the piano. Before she left for Penn State, where she is studying that instrument, my daughter Elise was complaining about hand and wrist pain, to the point of having to see a physical therapist. However, when we met her professor, Dr. Timothy Shafer, he told us that pain often is caused by issues with hand position and technique in striking the keys.

Recently, I spoke with Dr. Shafer at more length. He said to try to keep the forearm and wrist muscles as relaxed as possible. Tension in the muscles restricts blood circulation, and hinders the body in being able to draw away the toxins that result from muscle use. Conversely, relaxed muscles allow circulation and in particular the delivery of oxygenated blood. Think about it from your workouts at the gym: if you're in good shape, your heart can deliver more blood to your body, allowing you to exercise longer before experiencing fatigue.

When striking the keyboard keys, use only as much pressure than you have to.  Just press the key, then relax. Don't keep your fingers tensed up. In the martial arts, particularly Shotokan karate, students are taught to keep a tight fist only until striking the target, then to immediately relax. The same principle applies here. I know it's hard to keep this point in mind, particularly if you're responding to a nasty e-mail, but it's important.

Also, avoid bending your hands up as you type.  This position puts tension on the muscles of the forearm, and restrict circulation to the hands.  It's why your hands might feel cold after you type this way for extended periods.  Instead, Dr. Shafer said to let your hand and fingers "drip" from the end of the forearm.  That position maximizes circulation.  In fact, Dr. Shafer, when using a PC, keeps the keyboard off his desk and instead on his lap.

Following these tips might not get you to Carnegie Hall, but I hope they help you minimize hand and wrist pain.

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

23 comments
trevor022
trevor022

Yeah that is exactly the one that I am talking about. I didn't even think about the fact that your hand could get very heavy and put a lot of pressure on your pinkie. Hmm I'm going to do some searching around for one that puts a little bit less of an angle on it and see if that would do the trick! Thanks!

waltjohnson35
waltjohnson35

When I took piano lessons my teacher always stressed using your fingers and not your wrists to play. This seems to work well on computer keyboards. I also notice that the wrist braces immobilize the wrist. I think most keyboards are too high for good wrist stability. Summary: Lower your keyboard or raise your chair height and use your fingers

jeff
jeff

One product that I've found is a life saver is the Handeze gloves. www.handeze.com. They keep my hands warm, the way they are designed they massage the wrist keeping the blood moving through and they remind me gently to keep my wrists straight. I'm not affiliated with them, but I'm on my 4th pair because through the years I flat wear them out. Anyway, they are way, way recommended. ---Jeff www.pingplotter.com

Joe_R
Joe_R

to the hunt and peck method?

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

Remember that old chestnut about the best way to get to Carnegie hall? Practice, Practice, Practice. Pads are better than nothing but no replacement for correct keyboard placement. If you need a pad then the keyboard is too high. I used to be laughed at for putting the keyboard on my lap, one boss even threatened to discipline me, saying that it looked unprofessional, well there was only me and him in the office so who was there to upset?

ji_sing_ji_sing
ji_sing_ji_sing

If it stops the pain, I'm willing to try it. Thanks.

mheller9
mheller9

I have been a chiropractor for 25 years, sometimes working 10 hour days. You can imagine what a "pounding" my wrists have taken over the years. I was introduced to a device and the stretch that goes with it that added years to my career. I recommend it to anyone who uses their wrists as much as I do; such as musicians, techies, massage therapists. It is called a Wrist Wand (www.wristwand.com) Don't let the simplicity of the device fool you. There is no way to get a stretch of the medial tendons ( the little finger side) that is this even half as deep. Stretching adds blood supply and strengthens tendons without overworking them. I have had patients use this on a daily basis who were ready for surgery and couldn't work anymore; most were get their lives back in short order and continue working while using it every day. Using it proactively is better but it can make a huge difference even after the damage is done. Don't give me the thing about "I'll just make it at home" The device works and you won't make it. Keep it in your golf bag; in your violin case; next to your computer. I have loved it so much I have been asked to be a spokesperson on a few occasions but that is what happens when you are passionate aout something. It works. www.wristwand.com

si6urd
si6urd

Seems like some good advice. One thing I am not sure I understand: "Dr. Shafer said to let your hand and fingers ???drip??? from the end of the forearm." Does it mean bending/dropping your hands down as far as they go (almost 90 degrees to the forearm)? In that case it doesn't feel comfortable to me (perhaps it would be better after some practice).

bao_bei739
bao_bei739

Great tips, thanks. But, what about those pads I see people use? They're right under their palms. Are they useful?

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

I didn't ask Dr. Shafer about these distinctions, but maybe I should. I'm thinking that if you think about PRESSING the key, you may exert less pressure, hence experience less pain, than if you "hit" the key.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If we're talking about the same thing, I tried one several years ago. It was made (or branded) by 3M. It had a round flat base with a vertical handle. Unlike a joystick, the handle was fixed in position relative to the base. You used the handle to slide the base around on your mousing surface. It had q primary button on the top end of the handle; I'm sure there was another button but I don't recall where. The model I tried was ambidextrous. I had two problems with it. First and least, my thumb quickly grew tired of clicking the button on the top end of the handle. Second and most important, the device was very uncomfortable ergonomically. When gripping the handle, you rest the pinky side of your hand on the base, supporting the weight of your hand on that side and surface.. Surprisingly, my hand quickly became very heavy and the side of my hand became very uncomfortable. I think it took less than 15 minutes. I guess you could grip the handle a little higher up so that the side of your hand is not making contact with the base, but then you'll have to maintain a death grip on the handle all day. It wasn't for me. I recommend if you try one, save the package and check the return policy before you order it. If you're left handed (or at least mouse with your left hand like I do), make sure you can get a left-handed model.

Data Nut
Data Nut

Do you remember those old computer desks with the adjustable keyboard tray? I always had mine tilted away from me so that the front of the keyboard where the space bar is located is higher than the back end. Now that we all live in cube farms we don't have that option anymore. Using the lap sounds good if you are good at balancing it, unless you have arms on your chair. Doesn't work for me though. What I have done to relieve strain is I take one of those keyboard wrist pads and place the front of the keyboard on top of it to get the keys more in line with the natural position of the wrist and fingers. You also need to keep your chair up high enough so you don't put too much pressure on your forarms when using the keyboard, esp. if you tend to lean on the desktop. And if you're tall like me then you'll probably need to raise your monitor higher too, to avoid neck pain, but I bought this nice monitor stand with cubby holes on work's dime (ergonomics, man - they gotta provide a safe work environment). All of this has alleviated the pain I was experiencing in my wrists, hands, neck and back. Hope it also helps someone else!

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Sometimes I wish I could just go back to hunting and pecking. It's slower, but probably would reduce the strain on my hands. I'm thinking if you take 5 seconds in between key strokes, you probably aren't going to have a problem with muscle and nerve injury, but that's just me. Of course, you might get fired for lack of productivity, but that's another issue. Thanks.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Normally I don't have much faith in product recommendations from a new member, particularly some who just joined prior to posting a recommendation as their first message. We're a suspicious bunch around here. In this particular case, I'm inclined to believe you. Your location in your profile isn't the same as the location of the company you're recommending. The product isn't too expensive for the benefits gained. Finally, the product looks a lot like a tool my wife used in physical therapy to strengthen her wrist after she broke her elbow.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

I know what you mean. In order to press the keys, the hands can't be too far vertical. I guess the idea is at least not to have the hands raised ABOVE the level of the forearm. That will create problems for sure. Actually the best thing is not to have to type at all lol. Thanks for your comments.

tze_cheng739
tze_cheng739

I see what you mean. If I just hold out my forearm and let my hand relax, it falls at about 45 degrees from horizontal. but I can't type in that position. To do so, my hand has to be more inline with forearm. But I do see and feel the difference compared to bending my hand upward. Maybe the author can ask the professor to be more specific?

Van Swearingen
Van Swearingen

Wrist rests actually increase pressure on the nerves. They are best avoided. Same with the keyboard 'feet'. The keyboard should either be completely flat or slant away from the user to encourage best typing posture.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Lol I'm looking at my hands as I type this comment. If I use the technique the professor recommends, then pads or no pads should be irrelevant. So I guess in that sense they're unnecessary. On the other hand, if someone really can't type unless their palm is touching (meaning their hand is angled up), then I guess having a pad (so that the hand is resting on a soft surface) is better than having the hand on a hard surface?

ng_kai_choy
ng_kai_choy

But isn't having hands on a pad better than having hands on a hard surface, like keyboard? What are "keyboard feet"? Thanks

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you do, ask him about the similar pads for mice. Thanks!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

They're the pop-up supports located on the bottom of the keyboard, on the side opposite the user. They change the angle of the keyboard by raising the far side up or down. Most of them can be adjusted to two or three positions.