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.

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