by Kathryn Woodall, DC
Wrist pain can put a real cramp in your style when using a computer is part of earning your living. Wrist pain makes work feel miserable, and it interferes with your play time, the kind of exercises you can do, and all your day to day tasks. It gets worse if you don’t do anything about it, to the point where simple things like lifting a glass of water can hurt.
The desk jockey lifestyle can easily lead to wrist pain—typing, mousing, and repetitive work all contribute. But don’t despair. There are things you can do to prevent and reverse the conditions that lead to wrist pain. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or mess with your current routine.
As always, check with your doctor to make sure the advice in this article is relevant and safe for you.
You might be surprised to learn that the problem often starts with your posture and the position of your desk, monitor, and keyboard. If these things aren’t set up correctly, then the rest of your efforts to help your wrists might be a waste of time.
From the bottom up:
- Your feet should sit flat on the floor, with the bend of your knee at or slightly greater than 90 degrees.
- Your torso should sit tall in your chair, with your shoulders back and head over your butt rather than sliding forward so it’s over your lap. Mutant ninja turtles are cool, but desk jockey turtles are just geeks with bad form.
- Your elbows should rest close to your sides, bent at or slightly greater than 90 degrees.
- Your hands should rest comfortably on your keyboard, similar to the angle they’d be in if you were resting them on your legs. Wrists are held neutral or bent back 15-20 degrees. The same advice holds true when using your mouse. I cringe when I see someone reaching far in front or off to the side for a mouse, because it puts so much needless stress on the shoulder and neck.
- The top of your computer monitor should be relatively level with your eyebrows, and it should sit directly in front of you.
- Your chair should be set at a height that allows all of the above to happen.
Once you’ve got your posture working with you instead of against you, there are other things to consider. Ryan did a great post a while back that covered mobility drills. Do these wrist exercies, they can help.
If you’re having problems with your wrists, ice them for 10-15 minutes. Put something between you and the icepack so you don’t get frostbite, and wait at least an hour between applications. If you experience discomfort with repetitive work, you’re probably creating inflammation. Icing is a simple and easy way to decrease that inflammation. Which brings me to the next point…
If you wear a wrist brace on your doctor’s recommendation and you’re using it when he or she instructed you to do so, then ignore this paragraph. The rest of you, listen closely. Almost all wrist braces are made to be worn at night while you sleep, and only then. They’re rigid to prevent you from curling your hand under as you sleep, which could irritate the heck out of your wrist. Those other soft braces are typically designed for people with arthritis, who might benefit from increased heat. Any other use of a wrist brace is most likely causing increased inflammation from the brace itself and from your muscles fighting to move your wrist against that brace.
Getting to the root cause
Most of the time, wrist pain is the result of faulty posture, shoulder issues, or neck issues. We covered posture above. Here’s a link to a shoulder exercise that you might also find helpful.
Kathryn Woodall ran a private health care practice for 15 years. She is the creator and co-author of the Million Dollar Exercise joint pain and mobility program.