How to reduce finger, thumb, hand, wrist, elbow and arm pain

With the advent of today’s technology, we are using our hands and arms more than ever and in very different ways. Tablets, smartphones, and computers have changed the way that we work, play, and live. The technology is great, but the pain we experience from it, is not so great. It’s not surprising that we feel pain – there are many ergonomic risk factors associated with our devices:

  • Force – from holding our phones and tablets;
  • Repetition – the same movements of keyboarding, mousing, swiping, and pointing are performed over and over;
  • Awkward posture – how we hold our phones and tablets, as well as incorrect set up at the computer;
  • Overuse – the sheer amount of time we use our devices for work and play;
  • Static posture – staying in one place while using our devices, as well as holding our devices with one hand position for too long;
  • Contact stress – our phones and tablets digging into our hands, desk contact while keyboarding and mousing.

But our devices don’t have to cause us pain if we follow a few simple rules:

  1. Prop it up – Force from gripping and awkward wrist postures can be greatly reduced by letting go of your tablet or phone. Prop it up on a stand, or a pillow on your lap, or your backpack/briefcase.
  2. Elbows free – Nerves run through your elbows and can be aggravated with the pressure of leaning. Pain and tingling (“pins and needles”) can start here and travel down to your hands. Keep your elbows free and try not to lean them on anything, no matter how soft.
  3. Hands free or switch hands – Use your earbuds when speaking on your phone or remember to switch hands and ears often. The same elbow pain can result here from bending your elbow and holding it up for too long.
  4. Use all your fingers to type – Try to avoid typing with your thumbs only on a tablet. Many tablets are too big for comfortable typing with your thumbs – pressure is placed into your palm and your thumbs really have to reach to type some keys. Place the tablet down flat to type or set it up with an external keyboard.
  5. Keep it straight – Make sure all your joints are in neutral. Don’t have your thumbs extended down, keep your wrists straight, keep your elbows in-between (not completely straight, and not completely bent).
  6. Switch it up – Avoid using one set of muscles for too long. If you usually text with your thumbs, switch to typing with one finger to take pressure off your thumbs. If you usually hold your phone or tablet in your left hand and swipe/point with your left, switch it up and hold with your right and swipe/point with your left (it’s easier than it sounds!) If you point with your index finger, use another finger instead. If you use certain keys constantly when typing, try other keyboard shortcuts to take pressure off those fingers. If you use your mouse too much, try replacing some movements with keyboard short cuts.
  7. Move constantly – Don’t stay in one position for too long. Move around in your chair or on the couch or stand up. Keep moving your phone and tablet around in your hands. Reach your hands to the sky and stretch up, rotate your shoulders and wrists. Perform any movement you can – just keep moving!
  8. Mini breaks – Incorporate mini breaks into your posture constantly. For example, don’t hover your hand over your mouse when your reading your screen – rest it instead; put your phone or tablet down while it’s loading – look up and give your neck a break from looking down; during breaks in keyboarding – put your hands in your lap.
  9. Shorter, more frequent is better – If you are using your device for a long period of time, it’s better to use it in short stints with breaks in-between. A good rule of thumb is 15 minutes on, 1-2 minutes off.
  10. Less is more – Of course the best thing your can do is use your devices less. Spending the day at work on the computer and then spending the rest of your day on your phone or tablet is just too much device time. Ditch the device as often as you can!

Ergonomics and business travel

When you travel for work, it is important not to forget about ergonomics.  Computer ergonomics usually worsens during travel, combined with having to transport luggage and other business materials.  Here are some tips to help you stay in ergonomics mode when travelling:

  1. Book an executive hotel room – Many hotels offer hotel rooms with ergonomics in mind.  Booking a hotel room with a desk and an ergonomic office chair will help you avoid uncomfortable postures that put you at risk for injury.
  2. Accessorize your laptop computer – Don’t forget to bring an external keyboard and mouse for your laptop.  Having an external keyboard will allow you to separate the monitor screen from the keyboard decreasing neck and shoulder strain.  Compact sized or roll-up keyboards are great to cut down on space and weight.  And don’t forget to place your laptop on a phonebook or two to raise it to the proper height (top of monitor screen level with the eyes).
  3. Accessorize your phone – The same goes for your smartphone and iPad:  an external keyboard and mouse will leave you feeling much more comfortable while reducing the risk of injury.
  4. Pack smartly – Use two or three small suitcases/bags instead of one large one to distribute the loads.  Make one a back pack and one a rolling suitcase.  Be sure to have padded straps on your back pack and a hip belt to share the load to your hips.  A rolling suitcase that you don’t have to tip to roll will also lessen your load and protect your shoulders.
  5. Be healthy – It is tempting to grab and go when buying food and drinks on the road or in the airport.  But taking a few extra moments to choose healthy food and fill your waterbottle will keep you sharp and focused.  Be sure to carry healthy portable snacks like granola bars and nuts to maintain your blood sugar levels between meals.
  6. Don’t forget posture – Car and plane seats can wreak havoc on your lower back.  Keep the seat upright or tilted back slightly to achieve the most comfortable angle for your back.  Don’t forget to place a small pillow at your lower back to maintain the natural curve of your spine.  When walking with your luggage, keep your back and neck straight with your shoulders back.  Tighten your core muscles when lifting, pushing or pulling your luggage.

Taking extra time to prepare yourself for comfort will go a long way in helping you feel good while traveling and prevent extra fatigue upon return.  Following these tips will give you a happy, productive business trip with no aches and pains to slow you down.