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Edit - This question may (understandably) invite knee-jerk reactions, so I'd like to clarify that I'm not talking about 70 hour work weeks. I'm talking about 40 hour work weeks plus 30 hours of leisure at the desk including weekends.

Lately I find myself having to pull myself away from the desk and wait for sleep to heal discomforts in my wrist and other areas. But almost everything I enjoy doing is tied intensely to being on the computer, like coding projects, research, and writing music. So I feel impatient and anxious not being able to do what I want to do.

I'm a software engineer by the way, so my endurance wears out cyclically, typically after a full day of work, a full evening of computer-based leisure, and second full day of work. Then the pain starts, which I can only imagine getting worse through my 30s.

Sure it's not natural, but consider it my life choice. I don't plan on having children anytime soon, so I have a lot of spare energy. What are the most impactful things to do in the short term to relieve the pain? What are the most impactful things to do to be able to keep doing what I like to do?

  • For the short term my thought was either (more) research into ergonomics or starting yoga. On the ergonomics front, a lot of things I've tried don't seem to help, so maybe I should hire a professional. I'm also reading a book on posture (no affiliation whatsoever). Yoga because I've heard it helps climbers strengthen their wrist, and because maybe stretching between meetings and regular intervals would help me, but I have no evidence for either. That's why I'm here asking.

  • For the long term I just have the idea to sleep better, eat better, and exercise. But it's vague and I want to know if there are more focused things I can do.

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    I’m voting to close this question because it is not about The Workplace and is instead about ergonomics.
    – Ertai87
    Sep 9 '20 at 15:38
  • You state in your profile that: 'Early web dev from 1999' and in your question you say 'I can only imagine getting worse through my 30s.' These numbers don't add up, unless you started web development at the age of around 10.. Can you clarify?
    – iLuvLogix
    Sep 30 '20 at 10:53
  • @iLuvLogix - Ah, I meant the rest of my 30s. I'm 33 currently. For some reason I had a PHP 3.0 book when I was 12, and I tried to create an online RPG based on Halo: Combat Evolved. I guess though it's an exaggeration to call that web development. I didn't actually have a client until I was 15 or 16. I remember DynamicDrive... if that can be a token of proof :p Sep 30 '20 at 11:08
  • An aside: everywhere I've worked, the occupational health department has issued pretty firm and pretty specific guidance on computer workstation layout for reducing the risk of upper limb injury; yet when I try a Google Scholar search, I can't find any peer-reviewed studies of the relative risks of different workstation layouts. Anyone got any idea what's going on there? Nov 27 '20 at 15:13
  • I suffered from this problem by using the mouse for 8 hours a day, and then do my own things on the computer for another 4 or something hours. One thing I found impactful is to rest for 8-10 minutes for every 90 minutes of work, during which I did some light exercises to my upper body and using wrist bands to strengthen my wrist.
    – BlackMath
    Nov 29 '20 at 0:49

12 Answers 12

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Firstly find a hobby that will keep your wrist in good condition. It sounds like you're heading for RSI (repetitive stress injury) which is a painful debilitating condition that can require surgery.

Anything that exercises those muscles and joints will do the trick. Two that I have found very helpful are playing the guitar, and slinging. Yoga I doubt would be as useful, but I don't know firsthand.

My problems totally disappeared with slinging, and it's great stress relief as well. Guitar was helpful, but I already knew how to play, so it wouldn't be much fun if you didn't already know. Whereas slinging is something you can pick up any time. It keeps you rotating your wrist in a non stressful way and is fun. My experience is that it's not a matter of strengthening the wrist but more about changing the motion. Slingings good point is exercising is a chore, slinging isn't it's something you will quite happily do and look forwards to doing. And it costs next to nothing, the whole thing can be easily made with string. And there is something satisfying about throwing a stone or ball at 200kmph.

Just to be clear on what I mean by slinging, here is a picture of my son with a home made sling and a rubber ball we use in the backyard. enter image description here

I am NOT a health professional of any kind. This is just what worked for me.

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    Hi, thanks for your response! And cute kid! Could you tell me a little more about the guitar-playing? There's nothing more I'd like to believe than that guitar-playing will help my wrist, since I'm a guitarist :-) but... searching only yields results about it causing wrist pain, and it's also my experience that extended playing hurts my wrist. I know you were only speaking of personal experience, but do you have any advice or style of playing that you found therapeutic to the wrist? How long do you play and how often? Do you play exercises? Chords or lead parts? Picks or fingers? Sep 6 '20 at 10:03
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    I see, thank you. It's worth trying. And do you have any more information on why yoga might not work? Again, not to be difficult. I've had professional climbers tell me that yoga built their wrist strength. I wonder if you have a counterpoint worth researching. Sep 6 '20 at 10:13
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    Because I don't think it's about strength. I boxed, my wrists and forearms aren't weak. I think it's about changing the motion for extended periods, perhaps flushing toxins out or something like that. I could do the same thing just sitting and rolling my wrists, but thats boring and I'm not likely to do it for long.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 6 '20 at 10:19
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    @Kilisi +1 .If I quit juggling one day I'll definitly give slinging a try :-) your boy is a good advertisement for the hobby !
    – m.raynal
    Oct 1 '20 at 23:01
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    @Kilisi - Hey, my pain's all gone! Thought you might like the update :) See workplace.stackexchange.com/a/163717/5304 for deets. Nov 27 '20 at 10:51
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Check the ergonomics of your chair, desk, keyboard, mouse, monitor etc. Anything wrong in your workstation setup increases the RSI risk. Try a wrist brace. Consult a doctor.

You know your own work capacity and need for sleep, but if you have not done so test whether you can get as much done with more time for sleep and relaxation.

Do not think about chair etc. separately. Your chair, desk, keyboard, mouse, monitor etc. and yourself should be considered as an integrated system that has to fit together. Wrist pads are not really a substitute for having your forearms naturally at the correct height relative to the keyboard and mouse.

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    Consulting a doctor is the best advice. Sep 6 '20 at 6:48
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    I would suggest asking the doctor for these specific things: 1) An executive profile to include their vitamin and mineral levels to ensure their isn't a deficiency. 2) Nutritional advice on protecting bones and joints and reducing inflammation. 3) Specific wrist exercises to prevent carpal tunnel and other wrist injuries.
    – BSMP
    Sep 6 '20 at 21:45
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Update, 3 months later...

Amazingly, I went from having pain in my wrist, forearms, and shoulders several times a week, to almost no pain at all. Thanks to everyone who pitched their ideas here. It's tough to tease out exactly what did the trick for me, and anyone else's case is going to be different than mine, but speaking exclusively for myself, I did these 4 things almost right away, and I was fine in 5-6 weeks.

  1. I started wearing a wrist brace 95% of the time. I used to hate wrist braces because they usually had some hard material at the palm that made me unable to feel the mouse. But I found this soft one (no affiliation whatsoever) that my SO and I loved so much we now have four of them, just in case they stop manufacturing them.

  2. I ordered 5 ergonomic vertical mouses (4 cheap ones, 1 "serious" one), eliminated 2 of them, and used the other 3 for about a week each, before deciding on the Logitech MX Vertical Wireless Mouse. I left some insights in my Amazon review that might be of interest so I'll quote it here:

    My conclusion is that you just can't judge how a mouse will fit you from reviews. Even reviewers with small hands like mine, had opinions I wholly disagreed with. And I think it's because people use the mouse in a variety of ways. For example, some people rest their hand entirely on their mouse while others use a "floating" hand. Some anchor their wrist and move their hand, while others anchor their elbow and move their forearm. Some have small hands; but, wrist pads and wrist braces raise the wrist, cancelling the problem of (or even overcompensating for) small hands.

    Especially if you're like me and rest the entire weight of your hand and also anchor your wrist, you're not going to be happy with any vertical mouse at first, because your hand will feel like it's sagging down the mouse, and when you try to unsag your hand the mouse will feel insecure because you're unanchored your wrist. (This is where the cushion of a wrist brace helped immensely. After 2 weeks I was able to use the mouse even without the wrist brace. But man, did I hate all 5 mouses at first.)

    enter image description here

    The full review is here.

  3. I think because I was wearing a wrist brace and using a new mouse, I became a little more aware of my body without meaning to. So I may have taken more breaks, even as minor as stretching and rotating my wrists every once in a while, and who knows—maybe that's the real reason I'm better. But if a wrist brace and new mouse is what got me to that awareness, it's as real as any other solution IMO. I also noticed I tended to lean into my elbows when I'm stressed or in-the-zone, which probably led to my shoulder pain. I avoid this when I can and the shoulder pain's all gone now.

  4. I didn't mean to do this either, but I ended up playing around 15-30 minutes of guitar every 1-3 days, something @Kilisi said helped him. I'm still skeptical this helped me, but who knows!


Original Post

Self-answering to track an experiment.

The strain and pain I experience has been very consistent through the years, so I think I'd be able to tell if something made a notable difference. So I'm going to apply some of the ideas people have offered phase by phase to try to isolate what's helped me the most. I'm going to start with the most passive items because I'm more likely to keep up things that allow me to be lazy.

  • Sep 08 - 15. Start using a wrist brace 100% of the time.
  • Sep 15 - 30. Start using an ergonomic mouse (untwist forearm).
  • Oct 01 - 15. Ergonomic keyboard (especially Microsoft) and slinging. I can't keep up slinging once I move back to New York City but, just to try :-)
  • Oct 15 - 30. Gaming chair and / or other physical exercises like yoga. TBD.

I'll report back (including my purchases) by editing this answer.

Rejecting for now, though I may consider again in the future:

  • Guitar, because it has always worsened pain for me.
  • Wrist exercises, because I know me, and I'm not going to keep them up.
  • Consulting a doctor and getting checked for deficiencies, until I try other things.
  • Nutrition, until I try other things.
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    Instead of a gaming chair, get a Herman Miller or Steelcase with Lumbar support. Gaming chairs are not ergonomic, and not designed for sitting at a computer for a long period of time. - Their only purpose is to look (cool) like a racing chair, which is designed to keep you from sliding about when cornering at speed, not designed for your back health.
    – flexi
    Sep 30 '20 at 9:58
  • I feel bad accepting my own answer, but I want to highlight the answer that tried-and-true worked for me. Hopefully people upvote other answers they find useful. Nov 27 '20 at 10:53
  • Glad to hear you're feeling better! As someone who's been dealing with wrist pain on and off for years, I know how hard it is.
    – Egor
    Nov 28 '20 at 13:42
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Get a decent chair. Perhaps even a gaming chair.

Until work from home started, I didn’t bother getting a proper chair to work in at home. I either had a folding chair or had a cheap $70 office chair. Once we went home I knows that would hurt my back so I got a gaming chair. Gaming chairs are designed for sitting there for long hours on end and often have padded armrests and are tall enough to rest your head on the back. I have fallen asleep in mine. The armrests are also such that I can rest my elbows on them while typing.

I also raise my laptop on an angle and lift it up overall so I am not clawing my fingers down and bendng my wrist to type. It allows me to easily keep my arms straight without towering over the desk in an awkward way.

Ideal typing position: Wrist is straight, aligned with the arm and not bent. Harmful typing position: Arms resting on desk surface, with wrist bent and angled upwards.

Do not buy the illustrated keyboard. That is a keyboard that will give you carpal tunnel. You want a keyboard with a wrist rest attached.

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    Note on that one: there are ergonomic keyboards (MS - yes, that is Microsoft - does some AMAZHING ones) where you can put the FRONT of the keyboard t obe higher than the back part and that have a handres. This allows you to keep the hands rested and NATURALLY have the ideal typing position. It DOES take SERIOUS getting used to, but once used to it is exactly waht the doctor presribes. Even without the front up they have a WAY flatter angle due to the handrest. Look them up - amazing investment and like all MS hardware quite well built.
    – TomTom
    Sep 6 '20 at 9:39
  • Sorry but this is not true at all. - Gaming/Racing chairs are designed like racing seats for cars. They are designed to prevent you sliding about in the chair, nothing else. - Most of them have flat backs. Tilted back slightly they are fine, but when sat upright or tilted forward, they are ergonomically terrible! For sitting long periods, get something like a Herman miller or Steelcase that are professionally designed for that purpose, not to look cool.
    – flexi
    Sep 30 '20 at 9:46
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There is probably no single solution to your issues. Fortunately there is a number of quick wins to help:

Ergonomics

  • Adjust your monitors to proper height. Check your setup. I personally prefer a 3 monitor setup over a 2 monitor one as you do not have the frame in the middle
  • Keyboard and mouse or at least an ergonomic mouse pad. If found the split hands of the ergonomic keyboard quite useful.
  • Electric height-adjustable desk that allows you to switch between standing and sitting regularly

Physical exercise
Evolution has optimized the human body for activity. Sitting most of the day is a rather new occurrence and even the most ergonomic workplace can do only so much. It is important that you have at least some kind of physical exercise that you consider fun. It does not really matter what kind of sports as long as you move regularly and activate your whole body.
I personally can also really recommend doing pushups on rings. You take a pair of gymnastic rings, lower them to ankle level and do some pushups on them. The instability of the rings will train all your small muscles in the wrist and shoulder. I used to do this as an antagonist exercise after every session in the climbing gym, which reduced the motivation issues with pure exercises. The effect is probably the same as slinging.

What else to consider
A cheap bed or an old matress can cause tension in you muscles as well and sitting a lot will make this painful.
Add a bit of movement to your daily life. Do just eat lunch and go straight back at the desk but take a 5 minute walk, etc. This my sound little but can easily add up to 20-30 minutes of additional movement each day
You should also consider physiotherapy to get rid of tensioned muscles. They can also show you lots of exercises suited to your specific issues.

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Stretch before, during (taking regular short breaks), and after computer activity.

Also, consider using alternate inputs instead of the keyboard:

  • Use voice commands to control your computer and voice to text for writing.

  • Use software that will transcribe music you play into sheet music for you.

  • If you play computer games, use a game controller instead of the keyboard.

You'll still need to practice good posture and ergonomics for anything that still uses your hands but by changing what you're doing you'll at least reduce the repetitiveness of the stress.

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Just adding my two cents to the already many good answers.

One: put down reminders to stretch and move next to things you encounter when you're already away from the computer. So the toothbrush, coffee maker, bread box. You name it. put a post-it there. you're already away from the computer. Remind yourself to take a bit of self care time. A couple of minutes can make a hell of a difference.

Two: This might not always be applicable. But Print more, or if possible get a tablet. Whenever you encounter a long piece of text that you plan on reading trough. print it It allows you to continue to do what you're working on, but also to sit somewhere else, or even just walk around in the house while reading it. A tablet would work better for consuming a lot of linked texts like Wikipedia, but the idea is the same

Lastly, consult a doctor or other professional. Rsi is no joke it can follow you around for life especially with your work and hobbies, you need to be really careful of this. Don't go and decide to wear a wrist brace without consulting a doctor for example.

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I started to have pain in the right wrist and it helped me a lot to completely change the way I was using the keyboard. What I did was switching to a dvorak layout, learn touch typing in it, use an ortholinear and small keyboard (so the mouse is closer). I also trained myself to move more my arms and use my wrists a lot less.

I can't say which of the ergonomic change really worked (I suspect the ortho keyboard prevented me a lot from painful movements) but the result is that I never had any more problem, even though my computer usage stayed very high

Some motions where you turn your right hand to the right using your wrist (or left hand to the left) are bad movements and should be avoided. You usually do these when for example use extensively keyboard shortcuts, or reach a difficult key or sometimes mouse, as shown in the second half of this picture.

Keep your arms straight during typing and mouse motion. I would also advise pressing your control keys with the edge of the hand, it's safer than trying to reach it from the pinkie.

I won't rehash what other said, there are also plenty of good things to implement here.

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Several other answers talked about ergonomic material, which should be the first thing to look into, so I won't add my two cents about it. Sports and open air activities and eating, sleeping better are also the best bets you can take, you'll always end up winning on more fronts than you can imagine after some time.

Another thing to check is the potential bad movements you make which are software related. Almost all editors, and plenty games, require you to press several keys simultaneously. Do you ctrl-c with the left or the right ctrl ? Right hand ctrl and left hand c should be the answer, because the one hand move will have you repeat bad movements.
My advices:

  • Learn to never press two keys at once with the same hand. Depending on your work environment, you can tweak your editor to distinguish left and right shift/ctrl so that some shortcuts work only one way.
  • Analyse the movements you repeat the most which may cause pain. Emacs ctrl-x and the pinkie pain which comes with it is probably the most (in)famous example. Modify them accordingly.
  • Re-learn to type on a keyboard with some online classes which tell you which letter to press with which finger. It sounds dumb, but after a dozen hours of a random (free) online training course, I had slightly changed my way of typing for a better one.

Worked for me to get rid of the emacs pinkie pain. Pain left within a couple weeks, never came back.
And all of it won't cost you a cent, and may even improve slightly your workflow.

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Everything in this answer is based on the following principle and premise:

Your life, your body and your health is always more important than anything else.

The first thing I'm going to suggest is that you stand up, walk around and get your arms, wrists, knees and ankles relaxed and exercised every once in a short while. This doesn't need to be long, two to three minutes is enough for a session. It's more important that you exercise your body frequently and regularly, preferrably once every 40 to 50 minutes. It's sitting constantly in one pose and lacking of proper exercising that hurts. Even for whatever reasons you can't wander randomly, you should try getting your body "up for working" by moving your arms and shoulders.

Then, try to make your sitting environment more comfortable and healthy, by purchasing ergonomic chairs, desks, mouses (mice) and keyboards, as well as hand and wrist supporters in front of your keyboard and mouse. Good poses relieve pressure on your wrists, and can significantly mitigate pain and discomfort.

Keep your body up by doing physical exercises regularly. Find a gymnasium or wherever you can exercise your body, and try to maintain a 30-minute session weekly or even bi-daily.

It's not quite hard to keep up with 70 hours of weekly work if you treat yourself properly. The downside would only be having less time for other leisures like reading and watching Netflix, but keeping a healthy body will definitely pay off in the long run.

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What are the most impactful things to do in the short term to relieve the pain?

Give up the extra 30 hours of repetitive motion computer-based leisure for the short term.

Pain is your body's way of telling you that you are doing something wrong. Stop the part that isn't important to your career and livelihood immediately.

Then, talk with your healthcare professionals. You need an accurate diagnosis before you can determine a long-term fix. You'll get a lot of home remedy tips - disregard those until your doctor give you professional advice.

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If you want to spend 70 hours a week at a desk at work, the only possibility is to find a company full of so-called "workaholics" you spend 70 hours at their desk, working less than 25 hours, and spending the rest of their time talking to their colleagues, having coffee breaks and browsing the internet. That's the only way that works long term. I forgot, get a divorce and disinherit your children.

Seriously, what you are doing is ridiculous. You're killing yourself. And nobody thinks any better of you for it, nobody will thank you, your boss will only see you as the mug who works themselves to death.

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    You clearly didn't read the question.
    – GeekInOhio
    Sep 6 '20 at 13:14

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