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How do you fight joint pain in your hands and wrists?

jasterix profile image Jasterix ・1 min read

I've been a developer for all of 12 months and already suffering from some joint pain in my hands. It tends to flare when typing, as well as when cupping my hand to use the mouse.

Before programming, I did have an office job that required me to do some typing, but the issue seems to have exacerbated in the past year.

Experienced developers, what steps have you taken to either reduce joint current pain or mitigate future joint issues?

Discussion

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ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn

Taking regular breaks helps significantly, as with avoiding any repetitive motion injury. I typically end up typing only about 45 minutes of every hour at most (more commonly it's far less than that) partly to avoid typing for too long at a time, and also because pausing every now and then actually helps me write better code (if you take a moment to look at what you've written and think from time to time, you'll find that you notice issues with your code much faster than you would otherwise).

Other things that I've found help include:

  • Using an ergonomic keyboard. Absolute ideal situation is a split design so you can have your hands at shoulder width with your wrists straight (this will help your wrists), but even just a full ergonomic layout will help a lot simply because of how it changes how your fingers move.
  • Using a keyboard with good keyswitches. Normally this will mean one with individual keyswitches for each key (usually called a 'mechanical' keyboard today, even though not all of them have mechanical switches). Ideally you want a reasonable but not excessive amount of resistance and good tactile feedback before the keys bottom out (move the full distance from their resting position to the keyswitch being fully engaged). Personally I'd suggest starting with something equivalent to a Gateron Brown or Cherry MX Brown (you can find these as options for most decent mechanical keyboards) and expand from there based on personal preference. The resistance is important because it dictates how much force you need to use to press a key (less is usually better, but if it gets too low you'll have more typos because of accidentally pressing keys you did not mean to). The tactile feedback is important for helping with the next point.
  • Learn to type such that you don't make the keys bottom out. This has benefits in that it helps the keyboard last longer, but it also reduces the stress your joints experience from typing (because you don't have the impact from the keys bottoming out).
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JoelBonetR

Mechanical keyboards usually have a high profile which is the opposite you need to avoid wrist pain. You need to reduce the movement to the minimum possible including the keydown-keyup movement which involves the wrist tendons so the most important could be getting a low-profile keyboard such a logitech G815 or G915 or similar which are also kinda comfortable, then add a wrist rest of your choice

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ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn

It's actually possible to find rather good 'mechanical' low profile keyboards as well, they're just not as common as the full-height ones.

And as far as overall travel, that's part of why i'm recommending good keyswitches. Good mechanical or optical ones trip just past the pre-travel, not somewhere beyond that, so with some practice it's possible to reduce overall travel even further on a good mechanical keyboard than you could on much cheaper options that don't have good tactile feedback.

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joelbonetr profile image
JoelBonetR

That's quite opinionated and we both know that a mechanical keyboard rarely will be as low key travel as a low-profile one assuming you tried good examples on both sides. You can get almost the same performance on a good low profile mechanical, that's right but is less preferred due to the unnecessary extra-noise.

I'm with 12 guys more in the same office, if all of us have mechanical keyboards this could be a mess, the luck is all of us are seniors and only one prefere mechanical keyboard and it's not at my side 😂

And tactile feedback is something kinda weird as you are seeing what are you typing on the monitor/s, with the extra annotation that we are heavy users of the intellisense

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ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn

That's quite opinionated and we both know that a mechanical keyboard rarely will be as low key travel as a low-profile one assuming you tried good examples on both sides.

Lower total travel yes, but good low-profile mechanical options will usually require less travel to trip the keyswitch than many monoblock designs do, so it's possible with some practice to reduce the total travel on each keystroke to a greater degree with a mechanical keyboard than a monoblock design.

less preferred due to the unnecessary extra-noise.

Not all mechanical keyboards are inherently noisy, it's just that most people who are really enthusiastic about them prefer the noisier keyswitches like Gateron Blues.

And tactile feedback is something kinda weird as you are seeing what are you typing on the monitor/s

The tactile feedback has no delay, visual feedback has to contend with the input latency and other factors. IOW, you get tactile feedback faster than you do visual when typing. On top of that though, most people can react faster to tactile feedback than visual feedback because the tactile feedback is a much simpler stimulus.

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joelbonetr profile image
JoelBonetR

I must remember you that we are discussing about which is better to avoid wrist pain, on which case a low profile slim keyboard is the king, other things are associated to user preferences who are not applicable to everyone and which we can discuss on another side or on a specific thread.

Just to clarify your last point, tactile feedback means you are aware you pulsate a key, visual feedback tells you if you pulsated the correct or the wrong one. You'll, of course have tactile feedback even with no keys, like in your smartphone for example, every time you touch the screen you know you put your finger over a place where a key should be because you trained your memory this way. Try to switch from english qwerty layout into something highly similar but not same like Spanish qwerty. It only adds one key while others remain mostly the same, you'll feel some kind of frustration till you get used to.

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ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn

By tactile feedback I'm not talking about the feel of touching a key, I'm talking about the feedback that the keyswitch has engaged. Many monoblock keyboards don't give this kind of feedback at all, or they give very limited feedback (usually the resistance of the key to being depressed further changes, but often not enough that most people notice). I'm not saying it matters for typing correctly (although it kind of does, because it tells you that the key itself engaged and most people don't hop between keyboard layouts (and those who do typically know all the keyboard layouts they use)), but for minimizing overall force applied to a key (you can release the key the moment you get that feedback that the switch has engaged, instead of having to make it bottom out or having to guess where the switch trips just to ensure the keystroke is entered).

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avalander profile image
Avalander

When it comes to wrist pain, there is no one size fits all solution, it depends on each individual and a specialist should be consulted in severe or prevalent cases.

Than being said, mechanical keyboards do help in some cases. As Austin says, the advantage of mechanical keyboards is that the key press is detected somewhere halfway the travelling distance of the key, with correspondent tactile feedback, so you don't have to press the key to the bottom, as opposed to how many monoblock keyboards work. This is important because pressing the key until the bottom generates a sudden back-pressure that strains the tendons. With a good mechanical keyboard you can just stop pressing once you get the tactile feedback, when the key still has some travelling distance left, which reduces considerably that back-pressure.

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joelbonetr profile image
JoelBonetR

it's not about the tactile feedback, it's about the wrists position you need to achieve to use a keyboard.

Using a low-profile one (mechanical or not) lets you use it on a more natural way (raising less your hands respectively to the wrists). Also releasing a key without that "key bounce" is an extra effort so there's no magic combination to win unless you reduce all the movements to the minimum possible, that is low profile and slim (TKL) keyboard, then get it mechanical or not, this doesn't matter that much.

I use a mechanical one everyday as I said (Logitech G915) which is mechanical with tactile switches and I love it the most. I have wrist pain too since years ago due to a chronic illness and I tried several keyboard types, the G915 was my first low-profile and the one that lets me code for 14h a day if needed without issues.

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joelbonetr profile image
JoelBonetR

1- Get good (for you) wrist rest/s.
2- Take regular breaks, such a pair of minutes every hour at least.
3- Use low profile ergonomic keyboard to reduce the unnecessary movement.
4- Get an ergonomic mouse if you're a heavy user of it.
5- Sit on a correct manner (distance to the table, height and so).
6- Do exercise once a day at least 15 minutes on which you involve your wrists.
7- Go to the physiotherapist once a month to help recover and receive advice to do some exercises better than others.
8- stress balls are good for that too but don't use it all the time or it can be counterproductive.

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Brandon Mitchell

I started researching how to make my workspace more ergonomic, and #1, #2, and #5 were key for me to stop my wrist pain.

The primary office space I work in has older desks that are taller and kind of a pain to use properly. If I raise myself up to the proper height where my forearms are parallel to the desk, my legs are too short to allow my feet to rest flat on the ground.

To adjust my workspace to make it more comfortable, I purchased foot rests for the floor so that I can sit taller with my feet now flat on the foot rest, and my arms are parallel to the desk.

I purchased monitor stands to elevate my monitors, so I am looking straight ahead, not bending my neck down. I bought a 36" wide mouse/keyboard mat to keep my wrist off the hard desk when using the mouse. Since I used a taller mechanical keyboard, I bought a foam keyboard wrist pad that keeps my wrists from bending up as much in order to reach the keys.

Everything I purchased was Amazon basics or generic products. I think I was able to make my workspace more comfortable and stop my wrist pain for less than $100.

I tried ergonomic keyboards and mice, but they weren't for me.

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jasterix profile image
Jasterix Author

thank you! 😊

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jasterix profile image
Jasterix Author

Thank you for the thoughtful feedback. I've started working on 3, although my typing skills still need some improvement

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joelbonetr profile image
JoelBonetR

Which model you picked?
I'm actually in love with the Logitech G915 TKL

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danielbranco profile image
Daniel Branco

I got mine yesterday and i’m loving it! But still need to find a good rest... do you have any sugestion?

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joelbonetr profile image
JoelBonetR

i really don't need a wristrest with the G915 tbh, but if you need one pick whichever you find through amazon, check those made with adaptive foam

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michaelphipps profile image
Phippsy

You dont get coding advice from doctors. Dont get health advice from devs! ;)

If it has bugged you enough to post it here, go get some proper advice from your doctor.

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sarafian profile image
Alex Sarafian

:) :) :)

But we all get advise from the internet. Often without thinking about it.

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michaelphipps profile image
Phippsy

True.

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jasterix profile image
Jasterix Author

A very good point. But I've gotten some direction on where to start from everyone who replied, including you ^_^

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michaelphipps profile image
Phippsy

Well, my wife is a doctor, so my opinion is biased! So many people wait before talking to a doctor and their health issue becomes complicated instead of easily treated.

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gaotter profile image
gaotter

In last half year I felt pain in the joint in my fingers. After some searching I found there gloves. They are working for me. Little strange to get used to in the beginning. brownmed.com/product/imak-compress...

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jasterix profile image
Jasterix Author

Thanks for sharing! I need to do more research on what these gloves actually do, but seems like a good place to start

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gaotter profile image
gaotter

Sounds reasonable. Hope you find what helps you 🙂.

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psiho profile image
Mirko Vukušić

30 and some years with no issues. I did read a lot about ergonomy of the working place. How to setup desk, monitor, chair, etc. I do take breaks often, not because of the ergonomy, I just like to think while walking around.
To add a new thing... check Powerball, or how are those training balls called today. It should make all your hand stronger and it's fun. Just keep it on the desk

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jasterix profile image
Jasterix Author

That's impressive! I thought this might be a relatively common issue. I'll check out some training balls options

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psiho profile image
Mirko Vukušić

Don't worry. You'll find a solution. I dont think it's common, but also not uncommon. Actually don't remember any of my programmers complaining too much aboit it. Maybe for a day. It would be resolved by changing hardware, like mouse, chair, keyboard. You just need to experiment and find a cause. I'd bet on a mouse.
But again, nothing can replace training yoir hand. But dont use those squeezing balls, thoe made me nervous :). Power ball is definitely a different kind of ball :)

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bfuculsion profile image
Benjamin Follis

Weight training. Rows of most any form really help with this. As do any deadlifts or anything that builds grip strength.

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jasterix profile image
Jasterix Author

I don't have a gym membership, but a few people have suggested getting an exercise /stress ball make my hands stronger

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Ross Coundon

See my comment above for a fuller answer but in specific response to the lack of gym membership, get yourself a pull-up bar that fits in a door frame non-permanently. Pullups and chin-ups are really hard to begin with so you can just hang from it or use a chair to get into the top position and lower yourself as slowly as you can.

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rcoundon profile image
Ross Coundon

Second the Captains of Crush but make sure you train fingers extensors too using something like the Handband amazon.com.uk/HAND-BAND-strengthen...

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Jon Randy

I've never once had a problem with this is 25 years as a developer. I always make sure my arms are supported by the table (up to just past the elbow). Also, I'm not sure why you'd need to 'cup' your hand to use a mouse? Your hand should should just rest naturally on top of it with no effort

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jasterix profile image
Jasterix Author

I just mean that the arching of my hand over the mouse causes some discomfort

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laurentpayot profile image
Laurent Payot
  • use a Dvorak keyboard layout to have the most frequent letters under your fingers
  • use the MolyHaH Chrome extension or similar for keyboard navigation (great!)
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Ian Turton

I can recommend WorkRave (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workrave) to "enforce" screen/keyboard breaks. I also use a vertical mouse which I find gives a better position to my wrist/hand when mousing.

If it keeps happening then see a doctor, I've had surgery on both hands to fix carpal tunnel and trigger finger issues caused by too much keyboard time without taking breaks.

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Thomas Güttler

You can stick sandpaper on a trackpoint (lenovo keyboard).

Image: github.com/guettli/programming-gui...

This way you can stay with your pointer fingers on "F" and "J".

Source: github.com/guettli/programming-gui...

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Mark Phillipson

I avoid using a keyboard or mouse completely when possible due to pain. What I would advise is when you are creating documentation or replying to email, try to use speech recognition to dictate your responses.

This can be quicker in some cases, and will give your wrists a chance to rest.

Don't just ignore the pain, it won't get better unless you do something about :-)

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Ross Coundon

Do some dedicated resistance training for your grip and extensors. Training with something like Captains of Crush grip trainers and Handband resistance bands for extensors will help to maintain wrist and joint health in the hands, wrists and elbows.
If you can pair this with more general resistance training that relies on grip - deadlifts, pull-ups, chin-ups etc. You'll bulletproof your body more generally.

Supplements-wise look at chondritin+glucosamine, it's safe (unless you have a seafood allergy) and has a protective effect in some people (doesn't seem to work across the board)

Others have commented on the physical tools so I'll leave that to them.

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redfred7 profile image
Fred Heath

Hi @jasterix . It sounds like you might be suffering from osteoarthritis. Inflammation-reducing gels, such as voltarol, will help with the pain but the best thing is to visit a doctor who will give you a proper diagnosis.

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Andrew Pazikas

I would recommend investing in a proper desk, chair, keyboard and mouse been a developer for 10 year and a PC gamer for around 18 years and never had an issue. I always think if you are going to be using something for 8hrs+ per day its worth investing in, to have a proper setup.

Make sure your monitors, desk, chair are configured appropriatly to so that you are sitting properly and its will take a lot of the strain away from your wrists I am a sucker for slouching and when I do I can feel my wrists supporting me where if I sit properly my arms/elbows take the weight as they are meant to :)

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david

for me its just putting the mouse at highest sensitivity so all i have to do is nudge it and it moves across the screen, I also set my desk height so it's at the least strenuous position for my wrists. the apple keyboard works for me, it's maybe not ergonomic but the layout and shape of the keys make it easy to type

also like, stretching/rotating your wrists every once in a while will help

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horrorofpartybeach profile image
Emma

I had the same problem and suffered several months of continuous pain. Although being a gamer doesn't help either, lol! Initially, I got a wrist support with a metal rod in it to wear while not working to stretch out the tendons and muscles but the real improvement came when I bought a wireless vertical ergonomic mouse (I think the brand was Anker and it was around £16). That significantly reduced the pain I was experiencing and now I rarely wear the support. I'd also agree with what Austin suggested; regular breaks and an ergonomic keyboard.

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huncyrus

I had the luck to learn type writing and fast writing (sorry, I am not sure the English terminology for these) and my teacher spent months to teach us how to properly warm up hand, wrist, arms, necks.
So myself, I do have a small daily training what helps.

Near it:

  • Also, ergonomic keyboard or at least a big enough mechanical (my dream is a mechanical gaming keyboard what is actually ergonomic).
  • Sometime, some person like to use wrist stand pads also.
  • Ergonomic, healthy/good chair with full arm rest.
  • Workout/Training in general.
  • Keeping some break between longer type sessions (if you know blind typewriting, then this could mean literally pretty nice character numbers...)
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Doaa Mahely

I suffer from this too. I don't have a good setup and work from a lot of different places. My main thing is back pain but I get wrist pain sometimes too. When it gets to a point where typing hurts, I immediately wear a brace and limit my typing. I heard it also helps to raise your hand, so I try to do that too until it gets better.

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David Dal Busco

I once had recurring light pain in my wrists. After months, I moved up or down a couple of centimeters (don't exactly remember) my chair and it helped reduce the tension and finally with some time solved the issue, seems to work for me 😉.

Might have been totally random and not linked at all though but, when I ever feel to begin uncomfortable to type, I move my site up or down or try to move a bit my posture, if I can.

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Médéric Burlet

Do some finger, wrist, hand stretching exercices.
Make sure to use a comfortable keyboard and mouse with a table at the proper height for you.

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dgloriaweb

I play the guitar, so my daily habit has the finger warm up in it. Just google some finger trainings and make it a habit.

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Kevin McGinn

Mouse-wise, I've had a good experience eliminating some of that strain by switching to a vertical mouse. Instead of my palm facing downwards, it's more like a handshake.