Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at cf.Objective() 2011 (Minneapolis, MN) with:

My Wrists Are Killing Me

By Ben Nadel on
Tags: Work

I must be typing an extra lot lately as my wrists are aching by the end of the day. I have good sitting posture and an ergonomic key board, but they don't seem to be able to cope with the repetitive stress. This usually happens to me after a few weeks of late night / weekend coding in combination with a heavy work load. Last time this flared up, I got a ganglian cyst on my left wrist (which finally disappeared after several months).

It probably took me 45 minutes last night in bed to find a comfortable position to fall asleep in. Most positions put some sheering stress on my wrists which makes me very cranky. I guess no coding for me this weekend :( Who am I kidding?!? Ok, maybe just a little code :)

Anyone know if stuff like BenGay or Icy Hot helps for repetitive stress wrist stuff? I know that stuff works on muscles, but this is more of a tendon issue I think.

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Reader Comments

@Ben,

Inflammation is best treated with Ice packs and an NSAID such as Advil or Aleve.

Treat your wrists with 20 minutes in Cold water or with an Ice pack and then 10 minutes Room Temperature cycle for several iterations. I find a bucket of Ice Water to be perfect for treating ankles and wrists.

Remember to stay comfortable and if you need to adjust the time of the cycles, that is preferrable to some Alpha Male Self-Torture.

Dan Wilson

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Dude,

Think twice about what you are doing. Sounds like you've pushed yourself well into fairly severe carpal tunnel syndrome. Hang up your coding boots for a bit, do some research into what else you can change at your workstation and don't take what is happening too lightly.

It took me 6 months of full cold turkey to recover from ignoring the niggling but growing pains in my wrists, and "just working through it". Which is tough for a nerd.

There's not really any satisfactory alternatives to keyboards that are well suited to coding, so if RSI really takes a hold, it can mean an end to any earning potential you have. You'll find yourself worrying about what other careers are as attractive.

A friend of mine has given up IT for good, and got a job as a teacher. 4 years after almost totally knocking computing on the head, he still has trouble lifting and driving. His is probably the extreme case, but it's really something that you need to address before is screws your hands royally.

It's such a mounting problem that in the UK, out trades unions are pushing for RSI awareness and prevention to be taught at schools.

Don't take it lightly.

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Dude,

Take it easy.

Go see a physio - there are lots of different types of RSI. I am lucky that mine was muscular - rest and improving work practices helps.

I have wristguards to keep them straight - a bit like the ones you wear skateboarding - which helps, but working long days, then working at night does not help the situation at all.

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I am in the same boat. I have been going crazy on a project lately and by the end of the day both my wrists are killing me. I have also had a hard time finding a comfortable sleeping position.

To compound that I injured one of my wrists at the gym a good 5-6 months ago and it has never gotten back to 100%. I have been considering going to see a doctor for a little while now.

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I had wrist problems less than a year out of college when I was 22 (I'm now coming up on 31 in a couple months). By that point, I had been typing on non-ergonomic keyboards and playing the piano for hours a day for over a decade already. The doctor gave me wrist support braces to wear, and I switched to the ergonomic keyboard, and I haven't had trouble since. In fact, after a year or two, I didn't have to wear the braces anymore. So the advice of going to the doctor is wise. He/she hopefully will give you some sort of brace or other way of easing the stress on your wrists.

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@Dan,

Thanks for the advice. Sounds like something I can definitely do in front of the TV (which makes it easy). I will start doing that tonight. Most of the time I do not have this problem; it's only when work gets very intense (which it has been since Dec.) and then I do a lot on top of it.

@RSI sufferer,

I completely agree. I will have to take it easy. I love coding and certainly don't want to put that in jeopardy. That's it! No coding on the weekends until my wrists get better. Also, i have to start working out again - my body is just degenerating in general. I need to stop that.

@Glen,

Yeah, I tried the wrist guards the first time I had wrist issues. Oddly enough they only seems to make it worse because they limited my finger movement too much. I understand that they are supposed to stabalize, but I was working so hard just to work with them on.

I think I just have to take it easy. My love of ColdFusion tends to make me a bit stupid. Plus, I just need to take better care of my body.

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I know a guitar player who recently went through the same thing with RSI. He's been playing for 20+ years, and was given a choice by his therapist a couple summers back. Stop playing cold turkey now for about 6 months, or soon stop playing cold turkey for good.

It was like watching a kid at Christmas when he could finally start playing again. :)

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Maybe stop jerking off? Ha ha, yeah right.

One thing, which is actually helpful, is to stand up once in a while and juggle. Like the Klutz soft juggling balls. it is a totally different motion that typing, makes you stand up. Juggle like 5 minutes for every 1-2 hours of programming.

Additionally, put your hands out in front of you, palms forward, like you are saying "Stop". Then put the heel of your palm forward and bend your fingertips back towards your face. Do both hands at the same time, don't bend your fingers with your other hand. It will hurt. Keep hiolding them in that uncomfortable position for about a minute. Do this 2-3 times a day. I learned that one from a phsyical therapist. It helps.

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I used to have a pretty bad case of RSI. My insurance company sent me to a specialist, who enrolled me in a class to teach me "the proper working envoriment for professionals". They handed out some book made for BBS Sysops in the mid-90's, which has a whole bunch of de-stressers and simple stretches to help out.

Biggest thing -- don't sit at the keyboard for more than 15 minutes at a time. Get up and just move off the keyboard. Move your hands on something.

I ended up moving my CF and Flex posters to the other side of the room, so everytime I need to look at them, it forces me to get up and just stretch. I also have a couple of "toys" at my desk which entertain my hands while i'm reading (blogs). Things such as squishy balls or clicky pens. I also purposefully take breaks to talk to my co-workers at least every hour. The water-cooler is my friend :)

Every little bit helps. The less constant-pounding you do at the un-natural keyboard the better. I've also heard that switching from a QWERTY keyboard also has helped as well.

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I've been a sufferer of SEVERE CTS. My left hand's fingers would get to a point where they wouldn't move anymore..and I had to hold something like a pen and use that to push buttons.

I've tried all kinds of the usual ergonomic keyboards such as the Microsoft Natural keyboard...which helped a bit, but wasn't enough. I was very scared, as I have another 30-40yrs of typing lefting to go... this was a total threat to my career!

Out of desperation I then went hardcore and got an Kenesis Ergo Advantage Pro (http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/contoured.htm).

This keyboard has saved my life. The inverse curve minimizes finger travel, and they remapped a few keys to minimize overloading any particular finger. They also have an optional foot pedal to distribute the load even further.

The bitter pill to swallow was, on a normal keyboard I could go 70wpm sustained and burst at 110wpm. Because of the layout change of this, there's a learning curve to deal with, so you suddenly have to slow down to 10-20wpm as you adjust to it.

After about 3mos I'm back to full speed again, and minimal CTS issues. It doesn't get in my way, but I'm aware of my CTS.

Highly recommend this solution.

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@Nick,

Yeah good point. I really have to make a conscious effort to not have my hands on the keyboard all the time. I like the idea of getting some sort of toy while I read. But, do you find something like a squishy ball that I would be tempted to squeeze won't allow my wrists to rest?

@Tariq,

Those keyboards look VERY interesting. Thanks for the link. I am definitely going to consider getting one at least to try. Maybe I can persuade my boss to chip in as they are a bit pricey. But I know how you feel - I have decades left of typing, I need these babies (my wrists) to last.

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I've seen a lot of people mention different keyboards, but also consider a new mouse!

I have big hands and most mice are like having a marble in my hand. I tried out a Contour Perfit mouse a couple of years ago and ended-up buying 2 more (one for home, and one for my personal laptop). Basically you measure your hand and order one that is the right size.

Rather than having to squeeze the mouse, you rest your hand on it. My mouse wrist was even more sore than usual for the first few days while it adjusted to the new mouse, but after that it was a breeze.

http://www.contourdesign.com/perfit.htm

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@Joel,

Very cool blog entry. I think standing when you work is very cool. I also have a lot body-heat issues, and actually, not sitting in a chair would help release the heat as well. Of course, at the office, I am not sure how much I can do about this.

On a related note (sort of), I read an article that preached the benefits of actually working while standing on a treadmill that goes 1mph all day. The idea is that Americans are fat and lazy and that we can work standing up and over the course of the week at 8 hours of 1mph, we will have walked 40 miles.

@Brandon,

Ohhhh, I like that!! I agree, sometimes my pinky will get painful just holding the mouse by the end of the day. I am definitely going to look into this stuff! Thanks!

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@Kola,

Thanks for the link. I took a look at the seating position / chair link you had and it dawned on me... my chair has no lumbar support. Not that I think that is solely responsible for my write problems, but it probably doesn't help. I am gonna use the rolled up towel suggestion, see if that eases anything. If nothing else, it will probably make my back feel better.

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I agree with the comment about the advantage pro. if you work, force your company to get you one. They are expensive, but they would much rather pay for a keyboard that really does work, rather than an L and I claim

i had wrist problems--bought the advantage pro Kenesis keyboard, and now i have no problems AT ALL. the thing is, they return when i go back to the lap top.

you might have to search around a bit for they keyboard that works well for you. you should be able to tell pretty quickly if the keyboard works.

Also, my physician NEVER suggested an ergo keyboard. Probably because he is a DUMB FUCK. He shook his head like a dumb dog and said "i just don't know what to do"
It's like, who cares if you don't know what it is?
You need to find something that HELPS you. Not a diagnosis or a CAUSE. Describing it as Carpel Tunnel or whatever is great, but does that really change anything?

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@Skip,

Yeah, I am in a bit of the same boat. I have a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard which is quite nice. But, when I go home and work on my laptop, my writs start to hurt again. I just need total arm support. My keyboard is pushed to the back of my desk and my entire forearms rest on the desk. This way, I get like no stress going through the wrists (as I don't have to support my arms). At home, however, with the laptop, I have to prop my arms up on pillows (as I don't have a desk), and it just never feels good.

I need to look into getting a better keyboard, but also, I have noticed that my mouse just feels way too small. Someone posted a link to a site that sells bigger mice (based on your hand size). I think this would help a lot.

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In addition to my regular work duties I try to find/devise innovative work solutions for people who are injured with RSI. One of my co-workers a kind, compassionate, dedicated and beautiful 25 year old woman is terribly injured. She has had to cut her long hair, she has sold her car, she owns only plastic dishes and her friends due her laundry and many oher tasks for her. She copes on a daily basis with relentless, debilitating pain and yet she comes to work with a smile and a fine attitude - she amazes me - I would not be able to do it.

Do not just take your pain seriously - respond to it as though it was the voice of God. It is your body telling you, "Enough!"

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