Last week's quiz on our home page focused on ways of reducing or eliminating repetitive stress injuries, or RSI. Years ago, Tonya and I suffered from tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome respectively, and we recovered completely thanks to adjusting how we work and live. Although not all of the nine items offered as quiz answers are necessarily effective for any given case of a repetitive stress injury, we were pleased to see nearly 80 percent of the quiz respondents answered that all of the items can be effective.
Back in 1993, TidBITS and local designer Jon.Hersh created a Caring for Your Wrists poster which covered the basics of preventing RSI. The poster was designed to be printed and posted next to your (or your co-worker's) computer as a reminder of good computing practices. The versions designed for print are still available (in PDF and PostScript format, as well as for an old version of PageMaker); we've also converted the document to the Web.
Here's a brief description of how each quiz response can help prevent or reduce the severity of repetitive stress injuries.
Regular exercise: Exercising - particularly in ways that don't use your hands or arms excessively - helps relax the body and the mind, and can both distracting you from your RSI problems and improve your overall health.
Ergonomic Keyboard: Although the standard QWERTY keyboard is almost ubiquitous, alternatives do exist (and we've written about several over the years). Be sure to test any keyboard that makes claims of increased ergonomics to make sure it works for you.
Some folks also use the alternative Dvorak keyboard layout, which was supposedly designed to be more efficient than QWERTY (although there is some question if that's a computing myth). Mac OS 8.6 and later include two Dvorak keyboard layouts, accessible via the Keyboard control panel.
Trackball: The ergonomics of the mouse can be problematic for some people, since the weight of your hand adds to the force you need to apply to move the mouse. Plus, moving the mouse with your entire wrist and arm can be less comfortable than manipulating a trackball with your fingers (especially with large screens and multiple monitors). Some folks get good results from changing the behavior of their pointing devices with various third-party mouse drivers.
Proper Desk & Chair Setup: If you spend many hours in front of your computer, you owe it to yourself to set your desk and chair so they conform to basic ergonomic principles and are comfortable for you. See our Caring for Your Wrists document linked previously for a diagram of an ergonomic setup.
Staying Aware of Problems: Self-awareness is an important aspect of avoiding RSI - if you notice tingling or numbness early on, you may be able to change your behavior and environment before you experience real pain, which can make simple tasks like buttoning a shirt or brushing your teeth excruciating.
Diet & Vitamin Supplements: Various nutrients, including vitamin B6 and E, have been found effective in helping with RSI problems in some studies. It's worth taking a look at your diet to make sure you're getting enough of these vitamins. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water to keep your body properly hydrated (and the resulting bathroom breaks will force you away from the keyboard regularly).
Massage: Aside from the fact that it just feels good, gentle massage can help relax the muscles in your hands, wrists, and arms so tense muscles don't exacerbate your discomfort.
Relaxation & Stress Reduction: Although everything here can be useful, it's perhaps most important that you learn to control your reactions to stress, since mental stress can have a significant impact on your physical well-being.
Handeze Gloves: Since we first wrote about them back in 1993, we've heard from numerous people who have had good luck with the form-fitting Handeze gloves reducing hand and wrist pain. The results aren't universal, of course, but the gloves are definitely worth a try. You can find important sizing information and an order form on the Handeze Web site.