You always make sure your hands look polished on the outside with manicures, moisturizer, and massages. But what about on the inside?
Repetitive strain injuries are the most common and expensive health problem, impacting hundreds of thousands of American workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost two-thirds of occupational illnesses reported are caused by lack of variation in job tasks, hitting factory and office workers especially hard.
“Humans aren’t designed to sit all day, nor are we designed to have our hands constantly flexed in a repetitive motion,” says Remedial Therapy Specialist Melinda Fleming. What’s worse, many of us overlook everyday aches and pains even though they’re our body’s way of telling us a serious injury is on the horizon. This makes us more susceptible to repetitive strain injuries and chronic conditions such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendinitis.
With mobile technology fusing our personal and work lives together into one of perpetual texting, tweeting, and gaming, it’s now more important than ever to encourage RSI-preventing habits at work and at home.
Symptoms of Tech-Related Hand Pain
When we use technology so prominently in our everyday lives, the small joints in our hands receive quite the workout.
Top symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Circulation issues
“The saying ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is so true,” says Melinda, who suggests hand and arm stretches the moment you feel pain or strain.
Adds Certified Hand Therapist Sarah Schlosser, “We have to change our postures and limb positions to ‘fit the machine’ versus the machine ‘fitting us.'”
The sooner you make the tips below habitual, the sooner you can alleviate your hand pain.
Tips to Take Charge of Your Hand Pain
“We’re all ‘keyboard athletes’ in one way or another,” says Kay Kirkpatrick, MD, Orthopedic Hand Surgeon in Atlanta. “It’s important to pay attention to ‘form’ and stay in shape for your activities just like you would for a sport or workout.”
- Make sure your eye line is level with your computer using a height appropriate chair.
- Posture, posture, posture. Your head, shoulders, and elbows should be in line with each other. “Imagine there’s a string pulling your head straight up to the ceiling,” says Sarah.
- Take frequent stretch breaks. Every half hour take a few minutes to stand, stretch, and relax your hands.
- Keep your wrists straight. “When they’re straight, there’s the least amount of pressure on the median nerve, which is the nerve involved in carpal tunnel syndrome,” says Steven S. Shin, Director of Hand Surgery at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic.
- Keep your elbows relaxed and bent at no more than a 90-degree angle.
- Set a timer to remember to take breaks if you’re someone who’s easily sucked into your work.
- Try not to be sloppy with your posture. If not possible, “Change positions often; use a desk or various surface heights so you don’t find yourself hunched over,” suggests Sarah.
- Purchase an ergonomic mouse instead of using the built-in mouse.
- Like with your desktop computer, it’s crucial to keep your wrists straight, elbows relaxed, and fingers floating over the keyboard.
- Keep your shoulders in mind. Your shoulders and neck should be relaxed.
- Use accessories to your advantage such as a detachable keyboard and tablet stand to make using your tablet more comfortable. “Using a stylus pen can reduce having to repeatedly expand pages with your fingers,” suggests Sarah.
- Change it up. Use both hands when swiping and expanding, and keep in mind you don’t have to press as hard when typing on your tablet.
- Do something else when your hands/arms start to feel tired. “Move around frequently and keep an eye on your wrist and elbow positioning,” says Kay.
- Posture is more important with an eReader than any other device, since many use them in bed. “Pillows don’t supply the amount of support to our back that we need to promote a good position,” explains Sarah.
- Use a stand and prop it at a comfortable eye level. Holding the eReader for long periods can cause hand and wrist fatigue. If you feel strain in your neck, immediately change positions.
- Alternate your hands when turning the pages.
- Keep your arms in front of you so your head isn’t down. “Type with both hands, holding the device so you’re equally sharing the weight,” says Melinda.
- Write extensive e-mails from a computer so you don’t end up with dreaded Blackberry thumb.
- Minimize texting as much as possible. “Your thumb’s basal joints take the brunt of the stress,” says Steven. “This joint is commonly affected by arthritis, more so in women than men.”
- Accessories are your friend. “Cell phones have amazing features now that allow the hands to have minimal repetitive use,” says Sarah, who suggests:
- Using a headset whenever possible.
- Using dictation software for e-mails, grocery lists, and texts.
- Using the speakerphone feature.
If building habits aren’t your forte…
Windows users can download Workrave, a free software that helps in the recovery and prevention of hand pain.