Webdev Injuries

Webdev Injuries

Mike Rees

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I've just got finished 7 hours of copying and pasting for some freelance work. I've managed to sustain 3 injuries in the process; a carpal tunnel flareup, damaged the ulnar nerve in my left arm again, and cut open my foot in a quite graphic manner I didn't notice for I'm guessing an hour and a half. You wouldn't think physical injuries to be all that common in a job where you're sat down, but I wish I could say this was the first time this kind of thing had happened to me and it's far from it.

Anyone else managed to hurt themselves when your job's moving fingers and impulsing neurons? If so, have you changed anything about your environment to minimise risk or prevent something from happening again?

 

xavier

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I'm struggling with some tendonitis for years and I had some pains also in the past - I've been a developer for 13yrs
The answer here is an ergonomic position. Check out the web there is plenty of ressources out there.
For the carpian tunnel you should consider: lay down your keyboard if it's not already & throw your mouse away and use a trackball!

 

Adam

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I have quite a bad wrist from a compound fracture a few years ago and got bad tendonitis from the muscles rubbing over all the metal and screws they put in it! Fortunately they've taken that out now. A good wrist rest helps but have been exploring some more ergonomic keyboards too. I know @sfcgeorge is pretty hot on keyboards and I saw @VickiLanger trying out a split keyboard some time ago. Interested to hear their thoughts on ergonomics!

Must say I've never sliced my foot open while using a computer though.

 
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Mike Rees

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I'll confess, my posture is poor. Various things usually temperature or allergy related have led to me rocking the chair back 30 degrees, sitting on the hinge of the seat and the backrest, and propping myself up with my left elbow for stability. That's definitely the cause of the ulnar nerve damage, I do it time and time again to the point I barely notice my pinkie and half of ring fingers are numb. I don't know what I can do about that, though, I'm not that strong willed. I only managed to give up the fags because I can vape every 5 minutes now and it's so close to smoking I tricked my brain into it.

I'll try laying my keyboard flat, it's at like a 5 degree angle. Scratch that, I just laid it down and now it's angled 5 degrees away which seems a bit off.

Unfortunately, the problem with carpal tunnel is a little bit weird. I didn't originally get it from using the mouse, I got it from using a graphics tablet, and excessive Osu!. I break out in hives whenever I use a wrist rest so I've steered clear of those too. I might try out a trackball actually, haven't touched one in 21 years but I'm a bit more dextrous now than I was at 10 years old.

Cheers for the advice guys, hopefully the next time I have to do a large copy and paste job I have at most 2 injuries 😂

 

sfcgeorge

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@xavier is exactly right about using your keyboard flat. The angling goes back to typewriter days, as does pretty much everything else about keyboard shape and layout. But it's the opposite of what you want ergonomically, the only benefit is you can see the letters more easily if you can't touch type. That's 1 easy thing you can do with any keyboard to improve the ergonomics 😄

There are other ergonomic issues with keyboards, but rather than just say what they are you can figure out for yourself. Hold your hands out in front of you in the air but don't force them into typing position, let them be loose and flex your fingers. Observe:

  1. Your elbows are by your side.
  2. Your arms are parallel to the ground.
  3. Your arms are not parallel to each other but angled in slightly.
  4. Your hands aren't touching there's a gap between them.
  5. Your wrists are straight or flopped slightly down.
  6. Your wrists are rotated outward very slightly as if they're resting on a large ball.
  7. Your fingers flex back and forth more easily than side to side.
  8. Your middle fingers are longer than the others.
  9. Your pinkie is weak.
Some possible ergonomic changes to your keyboard setup to address the above:
  1. Have a keyboard with a small bezel close to the edge of your desk so your arms don't have to stretch out.
  2. Adjust your chair so your arms are parallel to the ground when resting on your keyboard, or angled slightly down.
  3. Use an ergonomic keyboard such that each half is flared outwards a few degrees. Then your shoulder blades don't flare out and your wrists aren't kinked.
  4. Get a split keyboard so you can space the halves out a bit less than shoulder width.
  5. Do not use the rear legs of your keyboard, make it flat or even prop up the front slightly. An upward tilted keyboard causes the tendons going over your wrist to rub and wear.
  6. Maybe use a "tented" split keyboard or an ergonomic keyboard with a hump in the middle. This will prevent pain in the inner wrist from having to keep your hands flat.
  7. Use an "ortholinear" keyboard where the columns are straight rather than the rows. Makes your fingers do less work and once you're used to it typing is easier. The side to side stagger was so typewriter hammers didn't hit each other, no longer a relevant design constraint!
  8. Use a staggered ortholinear keyboard where the columns under your longer fingers are slightly higher up. Shape your keyboard to your hand rather than contorting your fingers.
  9. Use a keyboard with a thumb cluster so your thumb does common actions like backspace and shift.
Keyboards

My favourite keyboard that covers most of these bases is the Atreus. It's small to get near the edge of your desk, angled so your wrists don't kink, with staggered columns so your fingers are curled more naturally, and thumb keys to take strain off your pinkie. I'd like it to have some tenting but it's not essential and makes wrist rests even harder to find. It also isn't split so you can't put the halves shoulder width apart but my desk is small and I don't like all the wired of split keyboards.

The Ergodox Ez is the most flexible ergonomic keyboard. Very popular. I've had one for a couple years but I prefer the Atreus. I find the Ergodox has more keys than I need and I don't like the wires or how each half slides around. If you're a gamer though (or have big hands) the extra keys are perfect! Also massive nerd cred.

For a gentler introduction to all this the Plank is ortholinear without any of the other craziness.

Another gentle introduction for people who can't face ortholinear is the Microsoft Sculpt linup. This one is absolutely beautiful, omg. But they have others that are well regarded.

Wrist rests?

You're actually supposed to type with your hands floating over the keyboard, not resting on wrist rests. This is so that your hands are angled flat or down slightly not kinked back as they are if you use a wrist rest, and again something you can improve without changing keyboard. You could try to find a very tall wrist rest.

A note on switches

Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts tend to like loud stiff switches that click and clack with a lot of travel. It's true this is very satisfying but it's terrible for your fingers. The further they have to travel to activate a key and the stiffer the spring the quicker they'll get fatigued. Clicks also add a an extra bit of force to get over the bump. So Ideally use shorter travel switches (laptop style keyboards are actually good in this respect, or if going mechanical get Kailh switches (0.5mm less travel than the common Cherry switches). Get light weight linear switches, Kailh linear "red" switches are a good baseline.

 

sfcgeorge

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I also get terrible neck ache from bad posture but I haven't managed to fix that.

 

Mike Rees

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Haha, I don't want to discredit the effort you've put into the post, but I knew from the first point being "have a keyboard with a small bezel" that I wasn't gonna get on well with the keyboard suggestions lol. I can't stand the flimsy looking things. Incidentally I do hover my hands over the keyboard already, though that is what led to the ulnar nerve damage because to do so I rest my left elbow on the arm of the chair (and my forearm on my rather prominent stomach, but I digress 😅). I also don't do the wrist rest thing for aforementioned allergies. I also don't have £120 to throw at a keyboard :( Good post though, it might prove useful for someone who isn't in typically conservative British style unlikely to change things so radically.

 

xavier

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Woo @sfcgeorge, nice post!
I'm 100% agree with you about the keyboard. I'm a proud owner of a Ergodox, after 10yrs with a Typematrix.
A good keyboard, a track-ball or a vertical mouse, a good position and you should be good to go!

About the cervical issue, do you work on a laptop? Do you use an external monitor?

 

sfcgeorge

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@xavier Nice! Pen tablets make great ergonomic "mice" too because the pen is vertical. Currently I use an Apple Magic Trackpad on low force setting propped up at an angle.

I believe working on a laptop using a chair that was too low caused my issue initially. Inflammation around the vertebrae nerves. Now I use a monitor, separate keyboard, standing desk sometimes. I guess it's got a bit better but it's taking years.

 
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