If you have read my blog post Trying Atom and Spacemacs. You might have understood that I have some problems with pain in my wrists and that from time to time becomes a problem for me. So how do I handle this as a programmer? Do I have any good advice on how to live with an RSI problem when you are a programmer.

First I will like to state the following: This is in know way professional, I am in know way qualified to give these sorts of advice. Secondly I will mention a lot of products in this post, non of producing companies have sponsored me nor paid me in any way to be mentioned in this post.

What I am the other hand have is experience with lessen these problems my self. So let us get started with a bit of back story. In 2012 I started experiencing pain in my wrist when I coded for longer periods of time or edited photos. It was predomently my left wrist which was in pain and in I must admit I kind of thought it was just because I coded for long periods of time, which was 3-4 hours straight without break, not even to let my wrist rest. So I decided to change my coding pattern, setting an alarm clock every 15 minutes to give my wrists a change to rest. However this did not help a lot and it resulting in me starting to google the symptoms and realised it had a mild version of RSI. This episode of googling left me with a choice to either try to treat it my self or seek professional help. First I went with later, which I never should have done.

It started by me reaching out to my doctor and asking for help and information, he admitted from the get go that he was not a specialist nor did he have much experience with injuries like mine. So he made it so I could see a chiropractor whom he knew had treat RSI based pains before. However my experienced ended with actually having more pain in my wrist, and chiropractor in tears because she literally could not figure out why the treatment did not work. It actually took me and entire vacation (2 months) to get over the new pain. So I switched to option one and started to look for solutions on my own. The things which helps me I will list below and describe in further detail why it helps me:

  • Buy at least two different keyboards
  • Use the mouse less
  • Get a proper desk
  • Exercise your wrists
  • Change handstand
  • Use applications such as WorkRave, Time Out and IrisPause

Buy at least to different keyboards: Most keyboards have a certain form factor but differs at some key points; height, angling, key spacing and pressure need to punch down a key. So when you buy your two keyboards buy one which is not very heigh and by such have almost no angling at all, such as the standard Apple keyboard and buy one which is taller and buy such have a higher angling, an example could be a keyboard from the daskeyboard line. A super awesome thing with the daskeyboard line is also that you can adjust the height some what on them, which is a great feature. A third option which can be very expensive are ergonomic keyboards, now I have no experience with any of these for longer periods of time, but I am eyeing the Keyboardio Model 01. I am eyeing these keyboards because the Emacs users I know whom use ergonomic keyboard has no to very limited experience with RSI and therefore make a ergonomic keyboard a viable solution for me at least.

Use the mouse less: When I started having problems with RSI I spend a lot of time in applications which required mouse actions (Gimp, Adobe Photoshop, etc.) and I primarily and still does experience pain in my left hand, which is my primary mouse hand. So I started switching between using my left and right hand for the mouse, which lessened my pain and almost removed it. Then I started using applications which allowed me to only use the keyboard which result in the pain almost being close to nothing. Therefore I suggest that you for periods of time use applications which allows you to only use the keyboard. Examples could be Vi(M), Emacs, Nylas N1 and others.

Get a proper desk: At the time I started having problems my wrist was in resting position placed at the very edge of the desk, which I later realised is not a resting position, it puts a lot of strain on the point of your wrist “resting” on the edge of the table. So get a table with space enough for your screens and keyboard such that you can place the keyboard fairly deep on the desk. Next get a desk with rounded edge as it lessens the strain on your wrist AND maybe most important get a table which allows you to both stand a sit, as it gives you different positions for your posterior, affecting how your hands and wrists are positioned.

Exercise your wrists: There are different exercises for your wrist (google is your friend) which are specifically tailored for people experiencing RSI pains. But one exercise most do not mention is to use a piece of equipment called Wrist Resistance Strengthener. I use these on a regular basis, which mean I train with them at least once a day. I have a single at work and a single at home. I make 10 - 15 squeezes in one set and take two repetitions.

Change hand stand: No I do not one you to make a hand stand. Normally people have the keyboard horizontally aligned with the desk that is stupid because it forces you to have a certain hand position. A way to change this is to change the way angle of your keyboard and/or your hands. It is not abnormal for me that my keyboard is at a 15 degree angle of the horizontal line of my desk, and then my hand will either go straight on or being horizontal with the keyboard. I hope you understand what I mean.

Use applications such as WorkRave, Time Out and IrisPause: These applications forces that you take a break and it really helps, so you should give them a spin. IrisPause is still under development but I hope to develop it further during the summer break.

Finally something I will like to emphasis, if your boss cannot live with you taking breaks to avoid RSI, explain that it is well know problem and that it is better that you take shorter breaks, than actually getting a longer period of illness to treat the RSI injuries.

The above is how I cope with RSI and I hope it can help some of you doing the same.

- Lars Nielsen