They say the number one “danger” in the workplace is the computer. That may sound a bit melodramatic, but when you consider nearly $20 billion was claimed in worker-related injuries in the US last year, all blamed on injuries stemming from computer-use, villainizing the computer doesn’t sound so ridiculous anymore.
And wrist pain, caused from repetitive use or just general muscle and nerve pain, can be one of the worst computer-related pains to endure, but ending up with shoddy wrists isn’t a lost cause just because you chose a day job that requires you to use a computer. If you incorporate the right habits and products, you can make the so-called inevitable not so inevitable anymore.
Our guide will outline how to save your wrists in the long-term, giving you years of hopefully pain-free computing.
Adjust Your Keyboard
Prop it back down: Does your keyboard have those little plastic legs for propping it up so you can better see the keys? If so, never use these. They’re one of the number one wrist pain-culprits. It may be nice to better see the keys, but the angle forces you to bring your wrist back tighter, which can cause some pretty harsh nerve damage and lead to pain after constant use.
An example of a wrong keyboard angle placement.
Achieve a negative-slope: Making sure your keyboard is at a “negative slope” is also key, which is just fancy-speak for making sure your keyboard is below desk level, forcing your wrists to be straight as you type. This is called a “neutral’ position. And to really hit the sweet spot – position your mouse at the same level right next to your keyboard, but don’t use that mouse too much (we’ll get more into that later).
Ergonomic keyboards: And if your wrist pain is pretty bad, an ergonomic keyboard can help a lot when it comes to not using your wrist as much. Many however are slightly different from each other in regards to the key placement, so trying one out in person is best advised, if possible. Ergonomic keyboards from Kinesis are some of the best out there.
Ergonomically Correct Sitting
Sitting the proper way can make a huge difference to any wrist pain you may encounter while using the computer. If you haven’t yet, taking a critical look at how you site when on the PC. One of the first rules is to avoid sitting at a rigid 90 degrees. It may look good, but in fact it’s one of the worst postures to do for long periods of time. Experts say the best posture is one you find most comfortable – reclined/slightly slouched, with your feet flat on the ground.
Our Managing Editor Vikram Kinkar wrote a guide to improving your posture, over at Lifehacker. It covers the basics as well as advanced do’s and don’t to achieve a better posture.
Use Keyboard Shortcuts
Chances are you use a few regularly right now, “Ctrl + C” for Copy and “Ctrl + V” for paste, but there are literally dozens more. Keyboard shortcuts stop you from using your mouse, which other that a badly angled keyboard is one of the worst wrist long-term offenders.
Learning these shortcuts is not only smart for your wrist, it’s smart when it comes to increasing productivity.
Take Mini-Breaks Throughout the Day
For people who have wrist pain and are looking to contain it, these people will often say that taking regular breaks is one of the best things they can do to keep the pain manageable, or even not there at all. A common “mini-break” is taking a 5-minute break every 30 minutes. Just a moment to pause, stretch and give your delicate wrist joints a break. You can use the pomodoro technique to make sure you take breaks at regular intervals.
Getting up and walking and drinking a bit of water should be your usual break activities. And if you have a hard time pulling yourself away, they sell break reminders you can install on your PC, such as Albion StopNow or Break Reminder.
Switch to a Different Mouse Style
The standard mouse is not always the best solution, but if you have to use a standard mouse, make sure it’s no further away than an arm length away. Also, try putting a gel wrist pad under your wrist as you use the mouse to force your wrist into the “neutral” position.
If you can switch to a different mouse, consider getting a trackball. These have long been recommended by occupational therapists as a great alternative because no reaching and stretching is required. Place the trackball directly in front of you for best results.
And if you’re really open to trying a new mouse style, check out trackpads. These babies are awesome, and let you click, swipe and scroll all on a flat surface with no hyper-wrist extension needed.
Get Comfortable with Voice-Recognition
Voice-recognition has slowly been becoming more the norm with the rise of “Siri,” the voice-recognition helper on the iPhone, so hopefully crossing over into voice-recognition territory on the PC is less intimidating for some. It needs to catch on, because voice-recognition is by far is one of the best things you can do to prevent wrist pain. And Windows’ built-in voice-recognition software is surprisingly accurate, once set-up properly.
Stretch Whenever Possible
Call it yoga or plain ‘ol stretching, but stretching your joints and ligaments on a consistent basis can do wonders to eliminate wrist pain. Stretching limbers up and conditions the wrists like nothing else, helping you co-exist peacefully with your job and body.
And don’t wait to start stretching until you begin experiencing pain. If you’re at a computer all day, getting into the habit of stretching your wrists is the best long-term insurance you can give them. Some people prefer stretching their wrists before their workday, others prefer doing it at night. Either way is good, as long as you sneak in at least 5 minutes of stretching a day.
Saving your wrists from an injury you can’t come back from, should be one of your number one concern as a computer-user, and these tips work – they’re practical and most people be able to incorporate them into their lives rather easily.
To learn more Windows shortcuts for easing the tension on wrists, here are a handful of shortcuts for accessing Control Panel functions.