Prevent hurting arms and wrists caused by office and desk work. Personal experience with RSI uncovered these tips for preventing pain in arms and wrists

Reduce office wrist strain with these easy tips

Decreased motor skills have high impact on the professional and personal life of programmers, writers and virtually anyone behind a desk. When ignored, these issues often lead to serious afflictions such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). In this article, I will discuss my personal tips and tricks to reduce office wrist strain.

Tips will appear ordered by how noninvasive each tactic is and are segmented in the following categories:

  1. Improve your posture
  2. Reduce the movement of wrist joints
  3. Take regular breaks

Improve your posture

Apply the following instructions to lay a quick and easy foundation for any further improvements:

Your Body

  1. Sit on a chair at a desk.
  2. Untangle your feet, which causes your back to become straight
  3. Scoot to the back of your chair and make sure your shoulder blades touch the back rest

The extremities

  1. Position your screen right in front of you in order to avoid neck strain
  2. Keep your elbows off the table
  3. Level your forearms with your elbows to reduce suspense on the lower arms

Reduce the movement of wrist joints

AKA: Stop moving your arms around

Keyboard and mouses have a multitude of responsibilities of their own. As a result of this, hands constantly switch between keyboard and mouse. Due to the frequent repetitiveness of this movement, it is in many instances a big factor in the causes of wrist strain. Subsequently, this strain leads to hurting wrists, arms and hands.

Keep your hands on the keyboard

These types of movements often play a big role in straining the wrist joints. This is exactly why a Chrome plugin called Vimium is so powerful. This plugin transforms every clickable item on a web page into a keyboard shortcut. These shortcuts are easy-to-type letter combinations.

A browser screenshot where the plugin Vimium marks each clickable item with a letter combination to reduce office wrist strain
Typing [ f ] on any page and subsequently one of the displayed letter combinations, a link is opened. Type [ F ], and the link is opened in a new tab.

Vimium is inspired by the classic popular text editor vim. Because it offers many other features which improve productivity and reduce movements, it’s worth to have a closer look.

Use your phone less

Phones pose similar risks as Mouses, largely due to their use for small distinct tasks. We don’t want to open a new tab or program for these tasks and thus let phones take care of it. Approach this issue by breaking existing habits, rather than just installing some plugin. This is because personal behavioral paradigms make it difficult to present an all-encompassing solution for this.

The following steps take you through a method of avoiding phone usage for social media:

  1. Start using WhatsApp via the browser.
  2. Open a new browser window and open WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, your email and whatever else you use for social media
  3. Minimize your social media browser window and restore it whenever you feel the need to grab your phone
  4. Put your phone on silent mode when working and put it in your bag or a drawer
  5. Keep track of which things still require you to grab your phone and see if they can be added to a browser window. It might seem like a no-brainer, but this one really helped me and while working I only really still use my phone for the Authenticator app when logging in.

Take regular breaks

We’ve covered reducing physical stress by posture adjustment and making tasks less strenuous. However, there is another important aspect when aiming towards preventing reducing arm and wrist strain: breaks and exercises.

For this, I recommend Workrave, a piece of Open Source software which hides in your system toolbar and shows timer pop ups when it’s time to take a break.

Workrave popup of a 30 second micro-pause timer to reduce office wrist strain
Micro-pause pop-up
Workrave popup of a rest break timer to reduce office wrist strain
Rest break pop-up
Workrave rest break popup showing exercised to do within the break to reduce office wrist strain
Exercises during rest breaks

You can configure the length and interval of breaks. It recommends simple exercises to perform during these breaks, which makes them double effective. The alerts can feel a bit frequent, so be sure to play around with the activity interval settings before passing judgement.

I personally reduced hurt in my arms and wrists by using the above advice. For that reason, I hope that describing them here is useful and can . I’m sure these tips would have proven preventative to reduce office wrist strain, had I known about them before. During the writing of this article it became clear to me that there is a lot more to share on the matter. In light of this, some more specific articles will pop up in the future.

I am not a Medical Professional. You should not apply any advice from this article if it makes you feel uncomfortable. More importantly, you must refer to your physician when experiencing any symptoms related to strain. The internet offers great amounts of information, however a lot of resources are plagued by oversimplified and unsafe representations of data.

1 Comment

  • Mark says:

    Will test workrave for sure, using your posture reminder – chrome extension on my work laptop now. Would be nice to have something running outside the browser so i’m not forced to have a browser open for posture reminders.

    Thanks for the tips!

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