8 Ways To Stop Your Arms Hurting

Are you a computer user in this keyboarding age whose arms, wrists, or hands hurt from typing or mousing too much? Even if you don’t have full blown RSI or carpal tunnel, pain after using the computer too much can be disabling. Also, pain that only happens for a little while after you use the computer can be a signal that you may be in store for worse if you don’t change the way you do things.

These suggestions are arranged roughly in order of how drastic they are – I suggest that you go through the list in order, doing the things suggested at each step before proceeding to the next step. And please, see your doctor about any unusual pain or other symptoms – a blog article is never any substitute for proper medical advice!

Take Breaks

Taking regular rest breaks – even if they’re only 30 seconds long – is vital to give your body time to move and relieve the strain of using a computer.

There are applications which can remind you to take both short and long breaks – short breaks are usually under a minute, just time for you to shake out your wrists and look away from the screen, where long breaks are 5-10 minutes for getting up and stretching and moving totally away from the computer where possible.

Generally these applications are very configurable and some offer fancier functions such as guiding you through body-friendly break exercises or offering a way to postpone a break for a short amount of time. Here are some that I have had good luck with using:

Ergonomics

Make sure that your work area is arranged as ergonomically as possible. This will reduce strain on all parts of your body including wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, and back. Simply rearranging the height of your monitor or keyboard, for example, can make a huge difference in comfort.

It is a little more difficult for laptop users to arrange their space ergonomically, but it is still possible to make improvements. Here it is some information about optimal ergonomics for desktop and laptop computer users:

Keyboard Shortcuts

It’s generally accepted that using a mouse requires more arm movement than the keyboard, and according to the MouseLess website it also puts more stress on the neck and underside of the forearm. Certainly moving between keyboard and mouse requires significantly more movement than staying with the keyboard.

The good news about all that is you can reduce the amount of stress on your “mousing arm” by minimising your use of the mouse. Print out the basic OS X keyboard shortcuts handout and stick it up near your screen when you can easily refer to it while you’re computing. Use a program such as KeyCue to help you learn and remember keyboard shortcuts specific to the programs you use. With just these two simple techniques you can drastically reduce the number of times you reach for the mouse each day, and hence reduce the extra stress on your mouse hand.

Change Your Mouse

A different type of mouse won’t remove the stress entirely but an ergonomic mouse can reduce mouse-related strain on your arm. If the new mouse is sufficiently different then it could also move the stress around to different arm muscles – this might give the currently-strained parts of your arm time to heal if you also use the other techniques in this list.

There are a lot of different options for moving your mouse pointer around the screen, these are just some of them:

These are just a smattering of the possible pointing devices. With a little research on google, using terms like “ergonomic mouses”, “ergonomic trackball”, and “mouse alternatives” you should be able to find many more which could suit you.

If you don’t use the mouse much or you’re somewhat ambidextrous, you might try mousing with your other hand for some of each day. In my experience this drives me nuts in short order, but some people swear by it.

Ergonomic keyboard

There a lot of ergonomic keyboards out there, some more ergonomic than others. I have a Kinesis Advantage ergonomic keyboard which I use to great advantage sitting directly in my lap. I suggest you visit somewhere that you can sit down and try different ergonomic keyboards in an environment like your usual environment before you spend money on them. Ergonomic keyboards can be quite expensive and it’s a very individual thing – something that helps one person may harm another, and vice versa.

Ergonomic keyboards, especially those like the Kinesis where some of the keys are moved about, take a bit of getting used to. Try to give yourself several weeks before you “give up” using a keyboard, it’s always going to feel awkward when you start.

Here are some ergonomic keyboards – again, google for more.

Dvorak

Dvorak refers to an arrangement of keys which is different to the usual one found in English-speaking countries. The keys are arranged so the most used letters are on the keys are directly under your fingers and the letters and symbols which are used the least are further away. It takes a lot of effort to re-learn where all the keys are but typing with the Dvorak layout is much easier on the fingers because they move less. It’s worth it in the end.

I’ve written about different keyboard layouts and about learning typing with the Dvorak keyboard layout.

Dwell Clicking

Dwell clicking is done by a piece of software that tracks your mouse movements as you move your cursor around the screen. When you move your cursor to the position where you would like to click and bring your mouse to a stop for a short amount of time, the software generates a click for you. Most dwell clicking software can do double click, right click/command click and also do mouse dragging as well as regular single clicks. These are done by selecting the requested type of click from a small palette which sits on your screen.

ClickNoMo is the only stand-alone dwell clicking software for OS X that I am aware of.

Speak Instead Of Typing

[msd] is the only software currently available for OS X which lets you dictate to the computer. The Dictate software converts your speech into words on the computer screen instead of you typing them, and contains commands for editing and moving around documents and other application commands. It works best if you use it when you will be typing long passages, like this article. Dictate is new software and still has many kinks to iron out but if most of your computer use consists of typing reports and documents, it can replace almost all of the keyboard use needed for these chores.

Hopefully one day we’ll have Star Trek level understanding of speech, or neural interfaces where the computer is activated by thought, but until then take a stab at these methods. With all of them together – or as many as you need – you should be able to use the computer more effectively and with less pain.

- Ricky Buchanan

Dragon Dictate for Mac 3: Simply smarter speech recognition

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