As Physical Therapists, we see a great variety of injuries to the entire body, however lately we’ve been seeing a lot more wrist and hand pain attributed to prolonged, daily computer use. More specifically, with prolonged laptop use. Symptoms vary from general fatigue/stiffness in the fingers and wrists, to full-blown tingling, numbness, and/or sharp pain with even the most basic finger and wrist motions. To make matters worse, these symptoms are preventing you from working, which can carry over to other daily actives such as lifting, putting pressure through the wrists (such as bicycling), opening jars, or even shaking hands.
Generally speaking, the keyboards on most laptops are flat, which causes our wrists/hands to flex downwards (called wrist flexion) while typing. This position, unfortunately, is actually one of the worst for wrist/hand ergonomics!
To illustrate this point, try making a strong fist while your hand is flexed downwards- seriously, go ahead and try it. Weird, right? It feels awkward and inefficient, and oftentimes it actually hurts. This is because our wrists love being in a neutral position, which anatomically speaking is approximately 15-20deg cocked up– this allows the wrist to be in the most ‘open’, neutral position for the carpal tunnel, and it balances the forces between the flexor and extensor muscles of your forearm. Go ahead and try the previous example with your wrist cocked back 10-20degrees (a small amount, not too far), and then give it a squeeze. Much easier (and stronger) right? .. . . The ‘neutral’ wrist for the win!
A simple, and super-useful plastic tray made by IKEA (no affiliation) does a really nice job of tilting the keyboard up towards you, and as an added bonus, allows the screen laptop (when open completely) towards your face, allowing better neck and shoulder posture as well.
Flexing the wrists down, which is super common with laptop use, is putting your wrist/hands at risk of injury, so stop it immediately if you can. Aim to have your wrists ‘cocked up’ 10-20degrees for a more efficient wrist/hand position when typing and keyboarding.
Office ergonomics can be a multi-faceted, complex issue for many office/tech workers, so if you or our officemates have any questions on computer positioning, keyboards, or office ergonomics, give us a call or e-mail– We’d love to hear from you!
–Kevin Schmidt, PT, MSPT, CMP, Bike PT – PT/owner of Pedal PT in Portland, Oregon