my wrists and welcome to them.
© 1999 Jamie Zawinski <jwz@jwz.org>


For several years I had pretty severe wrist pain, and it terrified me. I had these visions of me with withered stumps at the ends of my arms, trying to limp along using speech-recognition software, and my career being over.

These days my wrists are pretty much fine. People often ask me how I dealt with it, so I thought I might as well write it up.

First, if you are experiencing pain while typing, do something about it. This is incredibly important: this is not one of those problems that will just go away on its own. It will only get worse. And it will get worse.

Most hand/wrist problems are not really ``carpal tunnel syndrome'', that's a specific kind of ailment, and there are many others. Carpal tunnel syndrome is when there is pressure on the median nerve in your wrist (the channel it passes through on the way from your forearm to your palm is called the ``carpal tunnel.'') Much more common is tendonitis, which is when the various tendons in the arm, hand, and fingers become inflamed and swell. (Tendons attach muscle to bone.) It's extremely common for problems that cause wrist pain to not actually be in the wrist at all, but in the shoulders, neck, or back, and they are certainly exacerbated by crappy keyboards and bad posture.

But one thing is for certain: Do not fuck around. If you are experiencing any kind of pain, get to a doctor and get it diagnosed.

Pain is a signal that something is wrong, and is going to get worse if you don't fix it. It doesn't matter what that something is, you need to do something about it or you run the risk of permanently damaging your body.

The first thing you should do is read the Typing Injury FAQ. It's a wonderful document, full of very useful information.


But enough about you, let's talk about me. There was a period where my wrist pain was bad enough that I was unable to type for weeks. It was terrifying. I'm basically all better now, and here are the tools I used:

So I was lucky, and it turned out that my pain was from mild tendonitis, and muscle tension in my hands, which was in turn caused by neck and back tension resulting from poor ergonomics, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, stress, and just too damned much typing. These things heal if you treat them early enough.

Why did I do acupuncture? Well, I tend to place more faith in Eastern medicine than Western for things like this, both because you tend to get more personalized care (your HMO is going to misdiagnose you and put you on the wrong assembly line) and because the holistic approach just makes more sense to me -- your body is good at healing itself, if its healthy. You need someone who is going to look at the big picture. It's easy for their terminology to scare you away, with talk of Qi flowing and being blocked and so on, since we know that's not really what's going on, but look at it this way: Newtonian mechanics isn't really what's going on either, but it's a model, and it works really well almost all the time.

But there is a lot of empty-headed new-agey snake-oil out there, too, as any web search on these topics will reveal. Skepticism is also healthy.

But whatever: if you go the Western route, and are lucky enough to be diagnosed properly, what will happen is that you'll end up seeing a physical therapist for a few hours a week, doing all kinds of exercises to strengthen the parts of your body that have been taking a beating (wrists, back, neck, whatever it happens to be.) That will work too.

However, another argument in favor of acupuncture is that the other sort of physical therapy hurts, not to mention is much more time-consuming.

I know folks who have done both. Do what you're comfortable with.

Some people will tell you that mice are the root of all evil, and that the key to avoiding wrist pain is to stop using the mouse and learn to use keyboard equivalents for everything. Well, in my case, I found it to be just the opposite. I used to be one of those people who never used a mouse unless absolutely necessary; now I use the mouse as much as possible. (It's the act of switching back and forth between the mouse and keyboard that you want to minimize, for efficiency.)

This is a very personal thing, it depends on your body, your chair, your keyboard, your usage patterns, all kinds of things. There's no one source of the problem, and no one quick fix. What works for you won't work for everybody.

Some random other bits of advice; your mileage may vary:


The bottom line is, don't ignore the pain, do something about it. I've had friends damage themselves permanently. (For example, read about Ben Wing's struggles.) If it hurts, find out why, and do something about it!

Good luck...


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