As many of you know, I suffer from a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome, one of the many conditions collectively called repetitive stress injuries, or RSI. Although I haven't had too many queries on it (and thanks - the extra email is often hard to handle), some people have wondered how I managed to write a book without seriously damaging my hands. It's a good question, and in fact, I can say that my pain level has declined since I started the final chunks of the book after Macworld Boston. How? The Handeze gloves.
These $20 finger-less gloves are made from stretch Lycra subjected to a special process called "Med-A-Likra" that expands the individual fibers in a thread, thus reducing the space between threads and working better to hold body heat. The cuffs are double-layer Lycra and help keep the hand in a neutral position while allowing flexibility, unlike wrist braces. The strangest part of the gloves is that they only have four holes for the fingers - the middle finger and ring finger share an opening. I don't know the rationale for that design.
I saw them displayed at Macworld Boston, and being interested in anything related to RSI, asked the guys at the booth for more information. They talked about them for a while, then handed me a pair of them and a stack of photocopied letters of recommendation from satisfied users and doctors and reprints of magazine articles. "Just try them," they urged. So, when I started the home stretch of the book, I figured I had nothing to lose and started wore them. After a day or so of break-in time (the seams irritated my skin), I couldn't believe how little pain I had given how much I was typing, although I couldn't say why my hands felt better. In fact, I'm curious about how the design works at all.
The New England Therapeutic Research Group designed the gloves to help relieve pain in three specific ways - by providing warmth, support, and massage. I have poor circulation in my hands and feet so they're frequently cold. The gloves help warm my hands, although my fingers still get somewhat cold. The support makes sense - the gloves are form-fitting down to the Lycra cuffs, so you have to order the right size for your hands. In theory, the Lycra material massages your hands, although I'm not so sure about that. I suppose that the stretchy Lycra pulls on different parts of your hand as you move your fingers, so I guess that could count as massage.
I don't even play a doctor on the nets, but here's my devil's advocate analysis of those claims. As far as I'm aware, much current medical thought indicates that cold is better than heat for helping healing, no matter how much better heat may feel temporarily. Support too is nice, especially the way the gloves encourage your hands to remain in a neutral position, but compression could reduce blood flow to the hands, and blood flow is necessary to promote healing. Finally although there's seldom a problem with massage, it isn't obvious how the gloves manage to massage your hands.
The fact that I can't adequately explain the gloves is frustrating, because they're a stunning success for me. I don't care how they work, as long as they do, but intellectually I have doubts. Nevertheless, within three days, sitting down at the Mac without the gloves felt wrong, much like driving a car without wearing a seatbelt feels wrong to me. For whatever reason, I quickly became accustomed to the feeling.
The next test was to see how well they worked for Tonya, who has tendonitis, another RSI with a different origin. She ordered a pair in the right size (3) and ordered me another pair as well (I wear a size 4), and after avoiding them for a week or two because they felt too tight, started wearing them. Every night she came home with a glowing report of how much better her hands felt, and then one day she realized that she'd been wearing the pair she got for me, even though they were too large. We decided not to worry about it, but after another few days, the larger gloves stopped helping as much, so she moved down to the correct size, and they have made a tremendous difference for her.
Although ideal for computer users, the company that sells the gloves, Dome, notes that they have been used successfully by musicians, farmers, carpenters, seamstresses, and dentists, along with people in many other occupations susceptible to RSI. Although it may seem odd to wear gloves to write, it isn't in the slightest bit unusual for dentists to wear thin rubber gloves, for farmers to wear thick leather gloves, and so on. People wear gloves for many reasons, even some as specialized as swinging a baseball bat. In that sense, it doesn't feel out of place to put on gloves before I start typing in the morning.
You can supposedly machine wash the gloves if you're careful, but my first pair lost their elasticity in the cuffs, possibly due to that washing. I think I'll stick to hand washing for my newer pair, although I still wear the old ones a fair amount - the loose cuffs don't particularly bother me. Some of the seams have loosened slightly, and I had to mend one on the older pair. It's possible they were just a bum set, but with anything that you wear as much as I've worn these gloves, it's inevitable that they'll break down. I can live with that if they continue to make my hands feel better - I'll do a great deal to avoid the carpal tunnel surgery, which has a low success rate.
For the fashion conscious, the gloves come in two colors, a melanin-challenged flesh tone (which looks foolish to my eyes since, like many types of women's nylons, they're obviously a different color than skin) and a bluish-grey with dark blue cuffs. Neither is exciting, by any means, and I think Dome would do well to make some in bright colors and black, or add some minor frills. [I want black ones with black lace -Tonya] If you have to wear these gloves, why not make a statement other than "I look like a dork." I stick with the blue pair in public to assuage my vanity.
In the final evaluation, I can't say precisely why they work, although I can tell you that I seldom even touch the keyboard without them, and I like wearing them driving as well. They're cheap at about $20, and even if they don't work for you (I have no idea what the necessary variable for success might be), if you're experiencing hand and wrist pain, I think it's worth trying the Handeze gloves. As soon as you compare that $20 with the cost of disability, physical therapy, or even surgery, it shrinks rapidly. Do note that wearing the gloves doesn't allow you to otherwise abuse your body by not taking breaks or working in a destructive position, ergonomically speaking.
You must get the right size for your hand, and the sizing is best done on paper. So follow along, and if all else fails, call the Dome folks and ask them for help. Draw a two-inch vertical line on a piece of paper with a ruler and pencil. At the one-inch mark on that line, draw a five-inch perpendicular line to form a T on its side, making hash marks on it every half-inch. Place your right hand palm down on the paper with your first finger (the pointer finger) along the vertical line (so you can just see the line). Using your left hand, mark the right edge of your right hand on the horizontal line. Now measure the distance along the horizontal line from the vertical line to that mark you just made. If it falls between 2" and 2.5", you're a size 2. If it fall between 2.5" and 3", you're a size 3. If it falls between 3" and 3.5", you're a size 4. If it falls between 3.5" and 4", you're a size 5. And finally, if it falls between 4" and 4.5", you're a size 6. For the last three sizes, those measurements aren't quite accurate, so if you're just a bit over 3.5", you may still be in the 4 size range, and the same goes for sizes 5 and 6.
Dome -- 800/432-4352