Help! I’ve got RSI from writing with keyboards: what’s the cure?

HTWB RSI 1Dear HTWB Agony Columns

My hands and fingers ache when I type too much on my phone, tablet and desktop computer. The other day I heard of someone who is suffering badly from RSI (repetitive strain injury) due merely to swiping her thumb across her mobile devices in order to activate them. 

Yours techno-threatened from Brussels, Belgium

Johann

Hi Johann, and thank you for raising a very interesting point for anyone who spends a lot of time writing using all the “latest” tools and technologies.

First of all as this is a medically-related question, Johann, I must point out that I am not  medically qualified and so I advise you to go see your doctor as soon as possible, if you are at all concerned about your aching hands and fingers.

However I have gathered some information together which may give you and other readers some useful background information.

What keyboards (and mouse use) are doing to our hands

RSI in the hands has been the curse of writers using anything more modern than pens since the late 19th century when the earliest typewriters were produced.

HTWB RSI 2Manual typewriters became the norm and speaking as someone who can just about remember what they were like, I can assure you they were hard work. Writing a 60,000 word book on one of those would have wrought havoc with the joints in your fingers, thumb and wrist.

Electric typewriters became widely available in the 1960s and 20 years later or so came the first word processors. Much as you don’t need big muscles to work keyboards any more, the wear and tear on your joints and tendons continues as we force our poor bones and soft tissues to take strain they weren’t really designed for. (Not to mention mouse use, even now that this has been reduced to twirling a finger around.)

RSI: a variety of problems

RSI – sadly – isn’t just one medical issue: it manifests itself in a variety of conditions, mainly involving joints, tendons, and muscles.

The most common conditions resulting from overuse of keyboards and electronic devices requiring input from your fingers are carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis / tenosynovitis. Click on those words to find out more about each one.

One thing I would warn you about, especially, is that pain in the hands and wrist is not always the result of local irritation or injury. Also it can be the result of what’s known as “referred pain.”

HTWB Agony logoI suffered from this for years when I was playing a guitar semi-professionally: even the most revered hand-specialist orthopaedic surgeon in London (England) at the time, was convinced the pain and swelling in my left wrist was due to tenosynovitis. He put me in plaster for three months, had the plaster cut off, and asked me how the wrist felt. It was still hurting.

“Ah,” he crooned and called for his helpers who grabbed my head and lifted upwards abruptly. All the pain went out of my wrist. “Your problem was pinched nerves in your neck.” Gee, thanks….

Be holistic in your search for a solution to the pain in your hands and fingers

Get advice from your friendly local physiotherapist / physical therapist on how to position yourself properly when you’re working on your keyboard: you might find that it makes a difference to the pain in your hands just by changing the way you sit and hold yourself.

You may also find it helpful to investigate complementary therapies to help you relax your whole upper body – e.g. Tai Chi, yoga, pilates, etc.

Hope this is helpful, Johann, and all good wishes for a quick recovery from your pain.

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family…

Comments

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Thoughts

  1. Good reply Suze, RSI can be so debilitating. When I suffered recently I saw my chiropractor who manipulated my wrists and elbow joints [I know it sounds weird] but it resolved the immediate pain.

  2. Argh, I think I have all of it ……………. or maybe not, phew!
    But I’m glad I don’t have to type on an old typewriter, that must have been agony.

    • Let’s put it this way, Angelika … using an old fashioned manual typewriter was not good if you had expensive long nails! Sorry to see you have those problems too. Lynn’s tip about seeing a chiropractor might be worth checking out, and of course you should ask your GP, too.

      • Luckily I never had long fingernails. As a child I had piano lessons and my teacher always insisted that my nails were very short. So, to this day I cannot stand having long nails.
        As for the doctor advice, I completely agree. Anybody with pain should see a professional.

  3. I found I developed problems when starting to use my MacbookPro’s trackpad. I now use a cordless mouse which is far more gentle on the fingers. I also find my hands get very cold in winter and admit to wearing fingerless mittens on occasion to keep them warm while typing as I don’t like hot temperatures.

  4. Use of laptops is even worse for us all – they are the bane of physios, I believe. Working from the sofa, I’ve no choice, but do try to position cushions to support my arm so that my wrist is above my hand as I type. I’m sure it helps to have learned to type on big, clunky old machines, too.

    Another thing I do when I feel my arms/hands seizing up is stretch both in front of me, cross them over and turn my wrists so I can hold my hands, and then bring then inwards – sort of inverting them – that seems to give them a good stretch.

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