Category Archives: Ergonomics

IT Technician’s / Developer’s Guide to Ergonomics, Mice / Input Devices

Every Bit Counts

As I outlined in the first part of this article, every small improvement adds up when it comes to ergonomics. No one improvement is going to make your environment perfect. At this point your hands are probably already damaged so even the smallest repeated agitation can cause problems.

Dual Wielding! Touchpad and Mouse

Dual Wielding! Touchpad and Mouse

 Mice, Touchpads, Tablets, etc.

Find what works for you

More so than with any other category, finding a mousing setup that worked for me was not easy to do. It is with input devices that there seems to be the most diversity in opinions. What’s very comfortable for one person, is actually very uncomfortable for another.

Most common Solutions

Generally, the most common types of ergonomic mousing solutions fit into three categories:

Ergonomic Mice

Touchpads

Graphic Tablets

All of these present their own risks for RSI, regardless of what you’re suffering from now. It’s not uncommon for someone to switch to a new setup, just to find themselves suffering from a new kind of pain six months later. The only consensus that I can seem to find from everyone I talk to is, you’re going to need a few different pointing devices.

Have a few different pointing devices for different tasks

By having a few different kinds of mice, you prevent your body hands from overusing and fatiguing as quickly. Furthermore, different kinds of mice seem to be better for different kinds of work. A graphic tablet you use for work, probably won’t game well, and vice-versa. Spend a little more for wireless mice, and keep them all around so you can quickly jump between them.

What worked for me

I arrived a strange solution to my problem. I find that the Evoluent Vertical Mouse is very comfortable in general. However, it didn’t solve one of my main RSI problems. From years of clicking with my index finger, my index finger is very sensitive to the motion of clicking. Realistically, any clicking with my index finger for any extended period of time causes pain. To alleviate this, I bought a Logitech Wireless T650 Touchpad, figuring it would help alleviate the issue. Well, it turns out, as I properly recalled, I hate Touchpads. Doing anything with them other than two finger scrolling drives me nuts… then by accident I figured out a unique solution to my problem. As you can see in the photo above, I actually use the Touchpad over the left of my keyboard for clicking, and scrolling. I use the mouse for pointing. The combination is actually surprisingly very intuitive. Copying and Pasting is frustrating, this way, so I use the Evoluent for the selecting part. But outside of that, I rarely have a need to use the left click on the mouse itself.  When I’m browsing the internet, and mostly just scrolling through pages, I hold the Touchpad between my hands and scroll with both thumbs.

Scrolling with the Logitech T650 Trackpad, other hand is taking the photo

Scrolling with the Logitech T650 Trackpad, other hand is taking the photo

I’m not recommending this setup to everyone. But for me, it definitely does the trick. Alone, neither of them really alleviated the whole issue, but together I can distribute the load onto two hands, and make working a whole lot less painful.

IT Technician’s / Developer’s Guide to Ergonomics, Hand Braces

Every Bit Counts

As I outlined in the first part of this article, every small improvement adds up when it comes to ergonomics. No one improvement is going to make your environment perfect. At this point your hands are probably already damaged so even the smallest repeated agitation can cause problems.

Hand / Carpal Tunnel Braces

Forces me to maintain good form

Forces me to maintain good form

If I had to choose the single most helpful thing for me in treating symptoms. It would be my hand braces. I can tell how much they help, because on laundry day when I don’t have them, I fatigue much quicker than when I have them. Good quality hand braces immobilise your hands and limits movement to only areas that should move. They surprisingly help with a lot more than wrist pain, as they help to hold your hands in a healthy position.

Now they look a little silly, and people will crack a joke or two. I don’t usually take them off at the office even when I’m not at the computer, and that’s a running joke. But, that said, you get so used to having them on, you forget them at times. I wear them while driving too, because gripping the steering wheel can get uncomfortable after about an hour or two.

Don’t cheap out on hand braces

These things are going to be strapped to your hands every day, for hours. Anything remotely wrong with them is going to slowly amplify until you hate them. If they don’t fit very comfortably, that small agitation will make you want to use them less which is a terrible idea.  I have some cheap braces, and they don’t hold up very well to abuse, $20 seems to be the price difference between garbage and great.

They will start to stink

Oh hell do they stink. Think about all the times you’ve felt your palms being sweaty? Yeah, that’s all going into your hand braces. Get machine washable braces. The good ones let you remove the metal supports, and pop them right into the washing machine with your laundry. Mine say cold wash only, but I’ve had no problems putting them in with my ‘warm’ laundry. I probably should hand wash them, but I figure if I get six less months of life out of them it was worth it not having to hand wash them every week. I’m about to buy two more sets, so that I can wear them just like clothes. This way I’m always wearing a clean pair. I’d really recommend once you find a pair you like, in the right sizing, by a bunch of them, and keep them in your dresser. Change them just like other clothes, they get more abuse than most clothes.

Get Braces with both upper and lower support

Thermoskin Carpal Tunnel Braces with Dorsal Stay

Thermoskin Carpal Tunnel Braces with Dorsal Stay

I have a pair that only covers the bottom half of the brace. I thought it was great, but I always kind of wished it had a top support to keep my hands from curling up on the keyboard. Fortunately, I got my current pair, unknowingly they did indeed have a top support. The difference is remarkable. Furthermore, because the top support doesn’t let my hands curl up in an unnatural way, I can actually adjust my desk so that my fingers are coming out my braces are the perfect straight angle with no bends. You don’t realise how much that centimetre or two makes a difference until you’ve tried both with and without adjusting the desk.

What works for me

IT Technician’s / Developer’s Guide to Ergonomics, Your Desk

Every Bit Counts

As I outlined in the first part of this article, every small improvement adds up when it comes to ergonomics. No one improvement is going to make your environment perfect. At this point your hands are probably already damaged so even the smallest repeated agitation can cause problems.

Desks

Desks make a huge difference. I never realised how much an one inch height difference mattered until I got an adjustable desk. Throughout the day, depending on my fatigue levels one inch can be the difference between pain and comfort. Furthermore, because my hand braces prevent me from bending my fingers inappropriately, being in that sweet spot where everything is ergonomic is a very small window that a non-adjustable desk simply cannot do.

They’re not cheap, but they’re worth it

It me took me way too long to buy an adjustable desk. The price point of around $1000 was a huge turnoff. It wasn’t until someone else called me out on the fact I was being irresponsible with my health that I really realised it was time to make the investment. After doing some casual research, I found out that almost all of the friends I knew in software development we’re already using sit-stand or adjustable height desks. Their employers had already done the math that I failed to, and figured out that the cost of preventing injury is way lower than treating it. Sure, I caught flack for buying a $850 desk from friends and coworkers. But honestly, in retrospect, I’m ashamed I didn’t get one years ago.

Which desk to buy?

From what I’m realising, which desk you buy doesn’t really matter as long as it has an electric motor. If you don’t constantly adjust your desk, you won’t being getting much value out of it. The electric motor makes that easy enough where you don’t think twice about doing it. I opted for a sit-stand desk. Meaning that my desk goes all the way up to my standing height. If you’re going to be shelling out cash for an adjustable desk, the extra couple hundred for a sit-stand is totally worth it. You probably won’t realise until after you stand at a computer how nice it is to have THE OPTION of standing.

Which desk did you buy?

I have the Ergo Depot AD117, which is actually a ConSet Desk. I figured that out when I received the desk. ConSet doesn’t really deal directly with consumers though, so it appears as if they expect you to go through a dealer. The desk itself was made in North Carolina, and is actually quite nice. My only complaint is that the table top didn’t have any pilot holes predrilled to help with mounting. But, I have a feeling that’s because they were concerned about the wood warping as it dries out.

Ergonomic desk lessons learned

1. Buy an anti-fatigue mat.

Anti-fatigue mats are absolutely necessary to make standing for hours comfortable

Anti-fatigue mats are absolutely necessary to make standing for hours comfortable

Standing can actually be more comfortable than sitting sometimes, but your feet will tire quickly until you get an anti-fatigue mat. I bought this one, and I like it.

2. Use painters tape to mark your comfortable sitting and standing positions on the wall. 

Use painter's tap to mark your comfortable sitting and standing positions

Use painter’s tap to mark your comfortable sitting and standing positions

I figured this out pretty quick. Most desks do not come with programmable presets. This is in order to encourage you to adjust throughout the day. I think that’s a noble concept…but I also like to generally know what standing and sitting height is.

3. Your comfortable height changes throughout the day

As a rule of thumb, whenever my hands feel like their crowding on the keyboard, I know it’s time to adjust my desk. Usually throughout the day I’ll move between about an inch on either sides of my tape marks.

4. Ergonomic stuff takes up a lot of space

Ergonomic pads, and extra input devices take up space quick

Ergonomic pads, and extra input devices take up space quick

There is no way my old desk could have fit, all of the nonsense I have now. Between pads, multiple mice, and my small collection of hands braces. Get a desk one size larger than you think you’ll need. It really helps when your desk is deep enough to allow for any combination of tenting or padding that you might need. The picture above doesn’t show my extra mouse, my extra padding or ANY other items I might want to put on my desk. Plan ahead and go a little bigger.

IT Technician’s / Developer’s Guide to Ergonomics, and treating RSI (Part 1)

This is more or less the ergonomic setup that works for me.

This is more or less the ergonomic setup that works for me.

I imagine like many of you reading this, you started with computers young, and at this point your hands and arms probably have a lot of mileage on them.

I mean seriously, let’s do the math.

The average ‘full-travel distance’ of a key press is between 3.5mm and 4mm. Now, the general consensus that I’m reading is that the average office worker types around 6000 keystrokes per day. Honestly, that seems way low for IT, but for the sake of argument let’s use that number. So:

3.5mm x 6000 per day = 21 metres per day

21 metres x 260 days (average US work year) = 5,460m per year

Average age of Network Technicians, Web Developers, Software Devlopers and other IT Professionals is around 36-38. We’ll assume they all started late (23).

5460m x 13 career years = 70,980m. or 71km per average career

That means that JUST in your professional work your fingers have probably traveled over 70km in the last 13 years.

I have to imagine that that’s a rather conservative number, as most of us started very young, use a computer for personal use, type more than that, work more than that, and are pretty much finger marathonists at this point.

The purpose of this exercise is to make clear the lesson that I’m just now learning. EVERY MILLIMETRE COUNTS. If you take nothing away from this article, remember that one lesson. Each change you make on its own will not solve your pain issues, it’s a combination of dozens of different things that will get your environment to the point where your body can seemingly keep up with the abuse. I’m not a doctor, but that’s been my experience.I still have discomfort, but at this point it’s way more tolerable, and doesn’t seem to be getting worse. Hopefully, the next set of articles after this one will cover some healing of the damage already done.

It seems like people’s attention spans for blog articles are only a few paragraphs long, so I’m going to break this into a few different sections. Each covering a set of changes that I had to make, that worked for me.

1. Work Environment (Chair, Desk, Angles, Braces, etc.)

Your Desk

Your Hands (Braces)

Your Chair

2. Input Devices (Keyboards, Mice, Touchpads, Tablets, etc.)

Mousing Devices (Mice, Touchpads, Tablets, Etc.)

3. Better Habits (Keyboard Shortcuts, work habits, phones/tablets, etc.)

4. Strengthening (Exercises, fitness, recovery, etc.)

How much does the average IT Worker Type per year? How far is that?

Alright, let’s do the math.

The average ‘full-travel distance’ of a key press is between 3.5mm and 4mm. Now, the general consensus that I’m reading is that the average office worker types around 6000 keystrokes per day. Honestly, that seems way low for IT, but for the sake of argument let’s use that number. So:

3.5mm x 6000 per day = 21 metres per day

21 metres x 260 days (average US work year) = 5,460m per year

Average age of Network Technicians, Web Developers, Software Devlopers and other IT Professionals is around 36-38. We’ll assume they all started late (23).

5460m x 13 career years = 70,980m. or 71km per average career

That means that JUST in your professional work your fingers have probably traveled over 70km in the last 13 years.

I have to imagine that that’s a rather conservative number, as most of us started very young, use a computer for personal use, type more than that, work more than that, and are pretty much finger marathonists at this point.