Photo Courtesy of Ksenia Makagonova
Let’s Face It, It’s Winter!
You are writing away, working on your memoir (of course you are—it’s warmer inside than outside now, after all, so no excuses).
Great. But right now, I have some cautionary advice for you: tips excerpted from an article I wrote for a Mac magazine years ago, but now more relevant than ever, so before you write another word, read this:
What To Do When Your Computer Bites the Hand That Feeds It
Photo Courtesy of Kevin Bhagat
So there you are, happily processing words on your computer, when suddenly you feel a shooting pain in (pick one) your fingers; your thumb; your wrist; your elbow; your entire hand or all of the above.
“Ow!” you say, aggrieved.
And (here is the bad news), this is only the beginning. Why, you ask? Because, my friend, you are very likely now afflicted with RSI (repetitive strain injury), a malady that is increasingly common among desk jockeys, slippery to diagnose, and a whole lot easier to avoid than cure.
It happens to the best of us, but if it hasn’t yet, don’t let it happen to you.
If it does, you will in short order find yourself shopping for painkillers, anti-inflammatories, splints, ice packs, and a good physical therapist. Or worse, a great surgeon, a competent attorney, and perhaps even voice-recognition software; that is if you plan to keep your job after lengthy recovery. If you’re a self-employed writer like me, you’ve got different problems: no sick leave, no income, etcetera.
RSI includes, but is not limited to, the better known carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS. RSI is a more inclusive term, which covers such old favorites as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and anything else that hurts (or goes numb) between your neck and the tips of your fingers.
What to do? Glad you asked. You can do any or all of a staggering number of things, some unique combination of which may help you. The first and most important, of course, is the one your mother was always harping on: sit up straight!
Proper posture at the keyboard requires and ergonomically correct chair, adjusted to the proper height so that your thighs are horizontal, keyboard placed so that you can keep your hands in as close to neutral position as possible, i.e., forearms and hands at right angles to your body, with your elbows neither rotated out nor in—though there is controversy about this.
Please do not hyper-extend your fingers. Keep your monitor at eye level and dead ahead, and perhaps treat yourself to a nice adjustable footrest. Otherwise, feet should both be flat on the floor. Do NOT cross your legs when you type (no need to, unless that hunk from Marketing happens by).
Like any athletic pursuit, using a keyboard requires warm-up exercises such as neck and shoulder rolls and hand and arm stretches to promote flexibility. Once you have injured yourself however, you may need to have a set of more injury-specific exercises prescribed for you by a physical therapist.
It’s not generally recommended to type while wearing wrist splints. In fact, if your injury is acute, you may not even be able to go near your keyboard for anywhere from three weeks to three months.
Some people manage to injure themselves so badly they can never type again, period. Both the severity and type of injury will determine this. Often, the “cure”—if you can call it that—is to stop using your hands altogether.
If you are like me, you settle for long periods away from what you love most (in my case, writing and gardening), followed by faithful exercise, icing of the affected parts, and frequent rest breaks. And of course, a certain amount of chronic pain.
I consider myself fortunate. In the acute stage, I suffered agony and difficulty in my struggle to do the things most of us take for granted: buttoning buttons; brushing teeth or hair; reaching; opening doors, pushing or pulling heavy objects.
Now at least, I can type for five or ten minutes at a time. And button buttons! So there’s hope, if you catch your problem soon. Don’t take it for granted. This is serious stuff, folks.
And me? I just finished my third memoir. And you should see my garden!
…to be continued.