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Cécile Lebleu
Cécile Lebleu

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Hand and wrist pain?

For a couple of days already I’ve had a pretty bad pain in my right hand, fingers, wrist, and forearm. I know the culprits: writing code on a MacBook flat keyboard, using the trackpad, and on my free time, using my phone and playing video-games.

I’m writing this on my phone with my left thumb only, my right hand wrapped tightly to ease the pain. I simply cannot use my right hand. I’ve even woken up multiple times during the past couple nights because of the pain.
But how will I ever achieve my goals if I can’t write code? “To get better, write more code”, is the best advice, but what if one can’t?...

So I’m looking for advice from people who suffer or have suffered similar problems. How do you keep going? Ice? Heat? Fancy ergonomic keyboard? Speech-to-text code?

Top comments (23)

codeluggage profile image

Great advice in this thread! I will add a long term solution: vim.

After I began using vim years ago, all these issues went away. My pain came from the excessive switching between using a mouse pad and the keyboard, in addition to using modifier keys to move around (like ctrl+left).

Vim is an investment, but it can be learned incrementally. Here are some steps I recommend:

  • Add it to your editor, don't replace your editor. Almost all editors have a vim plugin so you get the shortcuts.
  • Start with just a few shortcuts; hjkl instead of arrow keys, w and b instead of ctrl+arrow keys, and i/I and a/A to go into insert mode.
  • Change caps lock to escape. That way you have all you need on the "home row" and your wrists can rest easy.
  • Start small. Try for 10-20 minutes when you need to read some code. Just try to move around with these keys and then toggle off the plugin (or just stay in insert mode).
  • When you catch yourself thinking "I wish I could just do X", recognize that feeling and do a quick search online to figure out how to do it. Write down the new shortcut on a sticky note, for example, and savor the feeling of getting a tiny bit better :)

It's a long journey but extremely worth while. Nothing has improved my work with text as much as vim has.

lcoenen profile image
Loïc Coenen

I second that. I recently had the pain in my pinky though, because I use the terminal a lot and I need to make an odd movement to reach enter or backspace.

Now I remapped it - right cmd (right alt) is now enter, right opt is escape, and left option is backspace.

nanohard profile image
William Antonelli

Spent $1K at hand specialists and nerve test and took off from work for 1 week.

MD says, "Take a break from work."

What I learned:

  • Cannot get carpal tunnel from typing alone.
  • QWERTY is for masochists.

What to do:

  • Mechanical keyboard.
    • Colemak or Dvorak layout.
  • Proper posture.
    • When not typing, hold hands close to body, do not rest hands on keyboard.

May my suffering help another.

dmerand profile image
Donald Merand

I'm so sorry to read about your pain. That must be frustrating and stressful, not to mention uncomfortable!

I've had pain like you describe, though not as severe. To be safe, it's good to limit any kind of typing until your wrists feel better. Once affected/aggravated, you won't know if any changes you make are helping.

For me, switching my typing position helped dramatically. Make sure your upper arms are relaxed and hanging loosely at your sides, with the forearms not bent more than 90 degrees. I found that a pad or rolled up kitchen towel under my wrists to keep them straight while I'm typing had the biggest positive effect. No bent wrists! Using the laptop on my actual lap hurts me in about 1 hour.

Also, trackpads are awful, ergonomically-speaking. A six dollar Amazon basics mouse will make a world of difference. Make sure you have a mouse pad too :-)

All the best luck to you, and I'm wishing you a fast recovery.

codingsam profile image
Coding Sam

I struggle with this kind of problems from time to time too!
Like already said, a keyboard with wrist pads.
I recommend a mousepad with wrist rest and a real mouse. The macbook touchpad is awesome but it is still a touchpad, it is not for long hours usage ;)

cmosetick profile image
Chris Mosetick

William here in the comments suggested Dvorak or Colmak as replacement keyboard layouts. I agree, it's the best way to go for long term viability. I personally know 2 contacts that switched to Dvorak on my recommendation, and they seem quite content with the results.

A few years back, I gave a five minute lighting presentation at Ignite Seattle on the issues surrounding the Qwerty layout, and benefits of the Dvorak layout.

I also can recommend mechanical keyboards. I like the Filco brand models traditionally.

If you still use the newer model Macbook Pro's keyboard a lot, I can kinda recommend this Dvorak keyboard skin. It works pretty well for me, but does have its down sides. For less than $10 USD it's worth it. I used to be able to physically re-arrange the Macbook Pro keys, but it's not such a smooth transition on the newer models. Hopefully Apple makes a turn around and stops trying to make things so thin.

ccleary00 profile image
Corey Cleary

I had this problem a couple years ago - I switched to an ergonomic keyboard and vertical mouse, in my case the "Microsoft Sculpt".

It helped a ton but I also had to do a few other things to get the rest of the pain to go away:

  • bought a Roost stand for my laptop and a monitor stand for when I'm connected to monitor to make sure the top of the monitor is right about near eye level
  • I developed the wrist/forearm pain partly because of using a flat keyboard, but also because I had recently switched to a standing desk. I did an abrupt switch to the standing desk instead of easing into it and ended up - without realizing it - leaning forward a lot, putting pressure on my wrists. So if you currently use a standing desk or ever switch to one, be sure to ease into it.
  • I also started using a foam roller to stretch out my shoulders. The musculoskeletal system is all connected, so pain in your wrists and forearms can be caused by something higher up, in the elbows or shoulders.

Hope that helps!

dechamp profile image

Give you wrist breaks. I know this sounds like a "duh, stupid" type of comment, but I mean it. Give it a rest when you can.

Stretching helps a lot as well. Check out these for a few ideas.

Also make sure you research on the proper positioning for your hands, arms, and the way you sit. It all matters. I had horrible wrist and back pain for months. I had a professional come check my posture and they let me know all of those things matter. Once I fix my posture, it healed me up!

There are some good guides out there but honestly not everyone is the same is the only reason I'm not going to point you to the guides I've seen.

For example, I was told it was my flat apple keyboard but when I switched to an ergonomic keyboard, my wrist pain tripled. I went back and it stopped, adjusted my seating height and starting sitting straight and the pain went away.

vuild profile image

Wait, recover a bit, lift weights (dumbbells etc), strengthen, avoid the same way of typing for a long time (new keyboards, finger poke, dictate etc), shift body positions a lot, do it for longer than you want or relapse.

Src: still typing. Not a dr (dr should be first option).

darksmile92 profile image
Robin Kretzschmar

My trick was to use an ergonomic Swiftpoint GT Mouse in combination with my normal mouse. I switch during lunch break and use the other one the rest of the day.
Swiftpoint GT product details

As Keyboard I am using a KLIM™ Domination. I was searching for a good mechanical keyboard with good key stroke response and a nice feeling and since this is a german product and I try to support national companies, I gave it a try.
Has a good feeling and even without a palm rest the position of my wrist is pleasant.

Regarding the smartphone usage in the evening:
I bought a phone case with a finger ring at the back (the ones you can also use as kick stand) and tried very hard not to support my phone with my little finger at the bottom (typical holding position). Instead I used the ring on the case.

All those changes together archieved the goal to release the pressure on my wrists and arms during the day.

suntong profile image

When so many factors contributing to the pain, you've got to figure out what is the most harmful pose. Yes, a wrong pose is most important factor causing the pain. So read and compare the suggested poses and see what you might improve on.

The other things is, old habits are hard to get rid of. I have a colleague who has already figured out that her pain is caused mainly by using the mouse in the wrong way and using it too often. So she decided to start everything right, using her left hand for the mouse! The first several days were total chaos, but she turned the painful experience into something fun. :-)

matthieu_rolland profile image
Matthieu Rolland

I had exactly the same problem, at some point I had to stop working for 1 full week to rest my wrist.
Here is what took the pain away: an ergonomic mouse, it's vertical, making it respectful of the natural arm's position, it really works:

haukot profile image
Dmitry Daw

In my case, what helps:

  • Type slower and more smoothly, without bursts.
  • If you are typing on a laptop, check if it has static electricity. Occasionally, my laptop had been giving me small electric shocks (which are hard to sense), which, it seems, make the new occurrences of the pain more frequent. Non-conductive pads on the laptop (in the palm rests) made the situation much better.
  • I use two stretching exercises when the pain occurs: 1) similar to the last one from this video: (but I'm using small 1kg dumbbells, or water bottles) 2) similar to "smoker" from this video: (but without the "smoking" connotation - just touching my shoulders with fingers, with palms as in the "stop" gesture).

They help to recover faster, but rest is still needed.

Good luck with the recovery!

devkevyn profile image
devkevyn • Edited

My culprit was my forearm wasn't perpendicular to the table surface causing my wrist to strain (trackpad or mouse). So, I had to adjust my sitting height.

azettl profile image

A vertical mouse helped me takes some time to get used too.

garrett profile image
Garrett / G66 / megabyteGhost

I have similar issues. I switched to a vertical mouse and that helped a lot. I also wear a wrist wrap sometimes. I’m saving up for a nice ergonomic keyboard.