Hand and wrist pain due to repetitive strain injury are among the most prevalent occupational illnesses today. The rise in the use of computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets are significantly to blame for what has been deemed a new epidemic. The issue is compounded by the fact that when we leave “the office” we repeat the same habits of typing and tapping during our at-home and recreational hours, including the moments just before and after sleep. It seems as if our smartphones have replaced our toothbrushes.
The repetitive movements that comes from being on our computers (whatever form they take) stress the tendons that connect hand and arm muscles to the bone. When these tendons are overworked, small irritations, rips, and tears ensue, resulting in injury that may cause tendonitis in the wrist and hand which can mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (more on this below) in the process. Tendonitis may be responsible for the pain, aching, numbness, and loss of strength and agility in your hands and wrist, making minuscule tasks feel like gargantuan ones.
Before you return to your keyword or screen, we urge you to read ahead so that you can take steps towards the appropriate corrective action.
5 Tips to Keeping Your Hands and Wrists Pain Free When Typing, Tapping, and Navigating on Your Desktop, Laptop, or Mobile Device
1. Recognize the Problem
Your hand and wrist pain may be the result of too much time on your devices, but they may come from something else altogether. You need to identify the source code, so to speak. Let’s take a look at one of the most common causes.
There are three muscles responsible for extending your fingers and thumb to manipulate your keyboards and mobile devices. They each have trigger points that are near proximity to one another, and their primary referral pattern is pain and tenderness felt over the back of your wrist and thumb that radiates all the way up to your forearm. While this impacts your hands and wrist and is connected to typing, tapping, and scrolling, it is casually known as text thumb, and there are at-home tests you can take to see if you exhibit this unique condition. Perform your texting thumb test here.
Another way to identify whether or not you have computer-borne wrist tendonitis is to take note of a decreased range of motion in your hand and weakness when performing routine motions, including (but not exclusive to) the following:
- Gripping and then lifting the item up towards your upper body with the same hand/arm.
- Using a computer mouse
- Holding and using a smartphone with one hand
Once you’ve confirmed that you are indeed experiencing some form of computer-use hand and wrist pain, you can start taking corrective action. One effective means to doing so, is through better positioning.
For one, correct your seated posture. Many people don’t realize this but posture does indeed play a role in hand and wrist movement. From here on in, sit tall in an ergonomically sound chair with your feet flat on the floor to make sure that you’re not slouching and placing undue stress on your hands and wrists.
When typing on a desktop or laptop, adjust your keyboard so that when your hands are resting on it, your arms are at a 90 degree angle at the elbow. This may be awkward and uncomfortable at first, so you can ease into it by making the angle wider by straightening your arms a little. Imagine yourself as a piano player, keeping your wrists slightly elevated as opposed to resting them on your desk or keyboard. Yes, it may incite some stares (“Well, isn’t he/she prim and proper?“) but if it keeps your hands and wrists pain-free, who cares?
In addition, avoid typing and tapping too hard. Modern keyboards and screens respond much better to slight touches, so there is no need for emphatic actions which can add further stress to the tendons and ligaments in your wrists and hands.
3. Wear a Wrist Brace
Whether your hand and wrist pain is the result of carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, you can minimize pain and maintain proper wrist and arm alignment with a wrist brace that will keep your typing and computer/device activities from putting more stress on the impacted areas. Wrist braces manufactured for this purpose allow you to move your fingers freely without impacting your workflow and load, and complement other items such as an ergonomic mouse and/or wrist cushion.
4. Take Frequent Breaks and Stretch
We know that a writing, researching or coding tear can have you banging away on your keywords and screens for hours on end but just like you need to stop and take a break from sitting for the sake of your neck, shoulders, and lower back, the same consideration must be afforded to your precious paws.
If you’re experiencing chronic pain, take a break every 30-minutes and apply three or more of the following hand and wrist stretches (hold 10 to 30 seconds):
- Pressed palms praying position with elbows touching
- Pressed palms praying position with elbows out and parallel to the desktop
- Wrist extension by extending arm and using your other/free hand, gently pull your fingers back toward your body
- Clench your fists (just make sure you’re not facing a colleague when doing so!)
- Interlaced fingers behind back
- Tennis/stress ball squeeze
In addition to taking frequent typing/tapping breaks while at work, make an effort to avoid playing around on your smartphones and mobile devices when away from the office, something that is also recommended in our recent text neck article. If you’re experiencing chronic hand and wrist pain, the last thing you should do is compound the issue during your leisure time.
5. Consult With a Physiotherapist
In a perfect world, you’d be able to follow item #4 to the tee and spend less time on your computers and instead using your hands and wrists for movements more natural to the human physique. But alas many of you have no choice given your career and corresponding responsibilities. While the DIY tips above can certainly help reduce pain, your best course of action will be to complement the at-home (and in-office) regime with regular visits to a physiotherapy clinic near you. A variety of treatments can be applied to ease your hand and wrist pain, including manual therapy, range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises, and potentially even acupuncture, dry needling, and more.
In addition, a physiotherapist will help you uncover the true cause of hand and wrist pain. Many people self-diagnose and thus misdiagnose the pain as being the result of carpal tunnel syndrome. Instead, the pain may the result of improper posture when seated at your desk while typing/tapping away at a keyboard. The pain may also originate from another point in your body, such as your shoulders, something that a physiotherapist will identify and ultimately prescribe proper treatment and therapy for. The last thing you want to do it apply the incorrect form of corrective action when seeking to resolve your hand and wrist pain woes. Only a physiotherapist can ensure that you take and follow the proper course.
If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, contact our Burnaby clinic today to schedule a consultation.