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!

How to use your iPad ergonomically

The iPad is a wonderful device which allows you quick access to the internet anywhere along with thousands of apps to keep you entertained and informed.  But ergonomically, there are some pitfalls.  The main problem is that iPads are like laptops, but on an even smaller scale.  When you can’t separate the keyboard from the monitor, you either feel it in your neck from looking down at the screen or in your shoulder, elbows, wrists, and hands from raising your arms to type and mouse.  But as long as you use your iPad with care, you can reduce the risk of injury.  Here are some tips to help you enjoy your iPad experience with greater comfort:

  1. Placement – Ideally you would not grip your iPad with one hand while using it with your other.  The ergonomic risk factors of pinch grip force and awkward posture of your hand and wrist put you at an increased risk for injury.  You would also not want to put the iPad on your lap or even flat on a table.  This increases neck flexion which could in turn cause neck and shoulder problems and possibly headaches.  There are some good devices on the market that do alleviate some ergonomic risk factors.  One holds your iPad at the height and tilt you want it while clamped to a table or desk (iWare).  Others are tilt adjustable stands that sit on a table or desk for a cheaper option (Griffin A-Frame).  Or there are hand attachments for the back of the iPad that eliminate the pinch grip requirements (Hand-e-Holder).
  2. Reduce frequency of use – The iPad is not a device that you would want to use for hours.  The neck flexion and raised arms put you at a greater risk of injury than a desktop computer.  If you want to spend hours, you should be at a properly designed ergonomic workstation with a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and keyboard and mouse tray.  As a rule of thumb, try not to use the iPad any longer than 20 minutes without a break of at least 5 minutes or longer.
  3. Mix it up – Try not to use one finger or your thumbs continuously.  Use a mixture of hand positions and swipes to reduce repetitive motion.
  4. Task dependent – If you are using your iPad to read, place it higher so that your neck flexion is reduced.  If you are using many applications with lots of swiping and scrolling, place your iPad at a lower level to reduce awkward postures in hands and wrists.
  5. Change hands – Try alternating your hands, e.g. use your left hand to swipe and scroll, and your right hand to hold (don’t give up on this too easily– you will get better with practice!)
  6. Use both hands – Don’t hold and swipe/scroll with one hand.  This combines a myriad of ergonomic risk factors increasing the risk of injury considerably.
  7. Swipe, scroll or click? – Clicking is the best, followed by swiping, and scrolling last.  Scrolling has more awkward postures and more force is required.

The proper postures and movements, combined with regular rest breaks and non-continuous use, will allow you to have a great iPad experience with minimal repercussions from injury.