How to Keep Your Hands Pain-Free at Work

No matter what your job is, chances are good that you have to use a computer to do at least part of it. But the more time we spend at the keyboard, the greater our chances of developing hand and wrist pain. Performing the same actions repeatedly can cause repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis.

But there are ways to protect yourself. Here are a few tips for keeping your hands in top working order:

1. When typing, keep your wrists in a neutral position, not flexed downward or extended upward. To check your alignment, place your wrist, palm facing down, on a flat, hard surface. Put a Band-Aid lengthwise over the top of your wrist, and then move to your keyboard and type. If the Band-Aid stretches or goes slack, your wrists aren’t in a neutral position.

2. Sit up straight. Slouching or crouching over the keyboard can wreck your hand placement and also stress the neck, back, or spine.

3. Get up from your desk and stretch at least once every hour. In between, take shorter breaks to rest your hands, palms up, on your lap or on a wrist rest. Hands should be relieved of repetitive motion for at least 15 minutes every 2 hours to reduce the risk of injury.

4. Legs should be positioned comfortably and feet should be flat on the floor or on a footrest with the legs and hips perpendicular (between 90-100 degrees) relative to the spine.

5. Avoid extended repetition of the same action. A computer operator who types 60 words a minute can make 18,000 keystrokes in an hour. That’s a lot of repetition.

6. Don’t rush to go buy new keyboard configurations (such as split keyboards) or mouse designs claiming to be ergonomic. It will take years of research before we know if such changes really reduce our chances of injury.

7. Keep documents, telephone, keyboard, mouse, and supplies within easy horizontal reach, not more than 16 to 18 inches away.

8. Place your computer monitor directly in front of you, at arm’s length, with the top line of the screen at or slightly below eye level (possibly lower for someone with bifocals or trifocals).

9. Set your keyboard on an adjustable tray so that your forearms are parallel to the floor, wrists are straight and in line with your forearms, and elbows are relaxed and bent at a 90-degree angle at your waist.

10. Keep your mouse close to the keyboard and at the same height, possibly with a padded wrist rest.

11. Use an adjustable chair, with a rounded front edge and good lower and upper back support, positioned so that the knees are slightly lower than the hips and the feet rest firmly on the floor (or on a footrest).

Plus: Managing Arthritis Pain the Creative Way

Sources: Harvard Medical School, KidsHealth.org, The New York Times

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