Sunday, July 08, 2007

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

One person's handling of CTS ...

"It seems I'm not the only open source guy currently suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Carpal Tunnel is a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) typically caused by too much typing combined with bad ergonomics. Not only do heavy-duty computer users suffer from this, but it also affects musicians quite frequently. In my case, the onset was a combination of too much typing (and why did I agree to a new blog?) bad desk setup and too much guitar playing. Admittedly, I am a novice guitar player but I was spending too many hours learning scales while seated in a cramped office chair on weekends.

So in case anyone else is dealing with RSI, I thought I would share some thoughts and remedies I've learned. Ok, learned would imply I'm following all of this advice, which is not entirely true. But I'm trying to follow it and I'm making progress.

First of all, if you are feeling any pain, tingling or loss of sensation STOP IMMEDIATELY. If your body tells you to stop, pay attention. In fact, you ideally shouldn't do repetitive tasks like typing for more than 15 minutes at a time without getting up and stretching.

The next most important item is about the ergonomics of your desk area. You absolutely need to make sure that you are not bending your wrists upward while typing. Laptop keyboards are not great in this regard. If you have to type at a laptop, use a wrist pad to raise your hands to a neutral position. If you have a detached keyboard, it should be angled downward which means you should never use the rear keyboard feet to raise the back of the keyboard. In fact, you should have a riser at the front of your keyboard. I switched to a Microsoft Natural keyboard years ago, and found this helps somewhat. The newest model, the Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 or the wireless version the 7000 are well designed in this regard. In fact, I picked up a new 4000 keyboard for use at home to replace my old Dell branded Natural keyboard and I noticed it had the legs at the rear, which is completely wrong.

You want to make sure that your arms are basically level and that your wrists do not need to bend in uncomfortable ways when you type. I learned to touch type in high school and although I do not usually type completely properly using all 5 fingers, I am trying my best to do so now. It makes a huge difference. If you're of the two finger hunt-and-peck school, consider learning how to type properly so that you are not stretching your hands in unnatural ways. For me, I especially need to make sure I'm not attempting to use the same hand for two simultaneous keystrokes. That is, when you shift, you should be hitting the shift or control key with one hand and the appropriate letter with the other. This takes some retraining if you have bad habits ingrained after many years. The worst is the Alt-Tab combination in Windows. I'm also experimenting with a Kinesis keyboard at work, which is an even more extremely shaped keyboard than the Microsoft Natural keyboard. (It also costs more, but I figure its cheaper than surgery.)

The mouse is a frequent culprit in RSI. You may wish to try just switching hands to see if that helps. Or alternatively using an ergonomic mouse like the Logitech Trackman or Marble Mouse, which is sort of a mouse and trackball combination. I'm also trying out a Kensington trackball.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is an inflamation, so taking Ibuprofen (note to self: should that be iBuprofen TM Apple?) will help. Also warming up your arms (before a lot of work) and icing after is a good idea."    (Continued via InfoWorld)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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