Tips for Dealing with Carpal Tunnel and Repetitive Strain Injury

I've gotten enough questions about carpal tunnel that it’s easier to write a blog entry than rewrite the same e-mail repeatedly. Even if you don't have full-blown repetitive strain injury but just suffer from the occasional wrist pain after a long day, you may find some of the software or equipment I mention to be useful.  Prevention is better than treatment.

I've had repetitive strain injury from computer use for about seven years. At its worst, it hurt to turn doorknobs, but now I've found ways to keep it under control. These are the treatment options that worked for me and also the tools and the technologies that I now use to work at a computer.

First, the obligatory disclaimer. I am not a doctor. What I share is what worked for me, but other cases might be different.

Books and resources:

1. It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome  is  worth reading to better understand repetitive strain injury. It has exercises too, but I found them less useful than the other books mentioned below.

2. Sharon Butler has a good book with stretching exercises called Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Since then, she has developed more specialized stretching programs that she sells on her website.

3. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook is a good book for a massage based self treatment. It covers soft tissue pain in all areas of the body, and not just the arms.

4. Another book worth looking through is Pain Free at Your PC by Pete Egoscue, for its alternate viewpoint on ergonomics.

Professional Treatment: 

I tried many kinds of therapy, including physical therapy, massage therapy, shiatsu, acupuncture, and Alexander technique. These might have helped a little, but not much. The only therapy that made a difference was active release therapy. It's a soft tissue release technique, and I had it done with a chiropractor. This gave me noticeable results after the first appointment, and after a few weeks I was able to start typing again. This is pretty impressive since I had been unsuccessfully trying therapies for over a year at that point.

Self treatment:
1. I highly recommend the Armaid for forearm and wrist pain. It helps get rid of knots and loosen up the muscles.
2. If you suffer from tight back muscles, the Theracane (in conjunction with the trigger point therapy workbook) is also nice for treating muscle spasms.

Office Equipment:

1.  I highly recommend typing gloves from Handeze. They are inexpensive and offer really good support to the wrist. Many of people are told to wear hard wrist braces. I didn't find them useful and found that the pain would return in a different place after a few days. One thing the hard wrist braces are good for however, is to wear to sleep if you find that you bend your wrists in a weird or irritating position at night.

2. For upper back pain, get a reading stand that will hold books and papers vertically on the desk so you don't have to bend over them.

Computer Hardware and equipment: There are many resources on ergonomic computer set up, so I won't cover that here. I'll give my preference is for hardware, but this can be subjective and these things are expensive, so ideally you want to try them out before you buy them

1. An ergonomic keyboard is very important. I swear by my Goldtouch, but since they switched manufacturers, their keyboards haven't been as good and actually seem to exacerbate my symptoms. Some friends of mine prefer the Kinesis keyboards, but they take some getting used to.

2. Ergonomic mice also help. I don't have a clear favorite here, but I like the 3M vertical mouse and the Kensington trackball. I've never used track pads but some people like them.

Computer software:

1. Install a stretch break reminder software on your computer. You can find lots of them for free online

2. Because mouse clicking irritates my wrist, I use a software that clicks the mouse for me when I stop the pointer. The Windows version is called Mousetool. It's been so long since I downloaded it that I don't remember where I got it, but you can find download sites for it via Google. Just remember to take the necessary precautions when downloading programs from unknown websites.

3. I also use voice recognition software. Dragon NaturallySpeaking has come a long way even since my college days. It does make mistakes, and annoyingly, the types of mistakes it makes tend to make you look like a bad writer, for example verb agreement mistakes or its/it's errors. I don't use Dragon for the final draft of anything important, but for first drafts that will still undergo several rounds of proofreading, it's helpful. If you use voice recognition, then you MUST get a good quality microphone. The microphone that comes in the box is worthless. I use the Plantronics DSP 400.  Here's a website that lists and rates compatible microphones.

Okay, so that is all the information I can think of for now. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

On a completely random note, I was recently interviewed on an article about work related injuries at Redbook. This is what happens when you spend too much time hanging out on HARO.


  1. Oh, this is so interesting. I'm saving this and reading all the articles because I do suffer from this...I think.

  2. Fascinating reading. I'm in danger of wearing holes in my right wrist. I've been thinking about ways to cut down on linear wear-and-tear. (The edge of the desk is just too near!)

  3. Elaine -- Lol! fascinating is not what I expected for this post :-)

  4. What a useful post. I've had RSI for years, brought on by my job as a journalist. What's really licked it is my Goldtouch keyboard, 3M joystick mouse and a kneeling chair. And going to Body Pump twice a week.
    However, I now have two abraded bands on my legs from the kneeling chair... Writer's shin, anyone?

  5. My wife swears by her chiropractor as well. I am still wary. The wrist brace was worthless. It just sits in the back of a drawer on my desk. The vertical mouse was interesting but hard to get used to. And because I've switched departments a few times, it's hard to convince a new boss to plop down that kind of money on a new employee.

    Mostly I just suck it up. I can still type. Pinching anything is near impossible.

  6. Joseph -- Try the handeze they're cheap. And give voice rec a try, it's like $150 including a good microphone. The chiro might be worth a test visit...

  7. Isn't your employer legally required to give you some accomodations? (I know that reality doesn't always match up...)

  8. Incredibly helpful post! I don't have any wrist/arm issues, but I do have pain on one side of my neck. I'm seriously thinking of getting the Trigger Pt. book and the thera-cane thingy for my own Xmas present.

  9. I'm dictating this using Dragon NaturallySpeaking software! I had repetitive strain injury very badly 12 years ago, and my chiropractor helped immensely, as did yoga. I switched to using the mouse with my other hand, and was doing fine until two weeks ago. Then overuse of my mobile phone and all that clicking with my thumb, and it all flared up again, this time with shoulder pain.I've only been using the speech recognition software for three days but it's not bad at all. The dictation is amazing, the navigation is a little slower. I figure that taking some of the burden off my hands is a good thing, so I probably will try to combine speech recognition with a little like typing, because I write fiction, and I can't imagine dictating that!

    Anyway, thanks much for your tips. I managed to get rid of my pain completely 12 years ago, here's hoping I could do the same this time, and all the rest of you!

  10. I thought this was a blog about writing!

  11. M. Clement -- *sigh* if writing for me could just happen without RSI or computers, I would be sooo happy.

  12. Wonderful information. I have a problem with my elbow and the doctor said it was from too much time at the computer. She didn't give me near this much info. Just some meds to help reduce the inflammation. I'll be checking into some of this. Thanks.

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  14. Those are some serious tips, Livia! So thorough. I know from having talked to you that this is a serious issue for you, but I think it's great that you're sharing your tips for dealing with it with others. I bet some of these tips could probably also help people who don't have repeated stress, but just the occasional aches.

  15. Hey there,

    Very useful advice. My career is as a freelance writer and I have to write hundreds of articles a week just to make a living. I will definitely look into the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software! It may help to save my hands and my sanity. Now if I can just keep my daughter from running into the room while I am working!

    Brian Bedell
    Panna Days, Guinness Nights
    An Alternate Truth/Fiction Blog


    Keep up the great work!!!

    Common Cents

  17. I've found that putting a little bit of lavender oil on my wrists before bed also helps them feel much better in the morning. It takes the swelling down and the smell helps me sleep!

  18. Hey!
    Couple questions for any other visitors! What supplements or medication do you take for the pain? I am using a combination of Tumeric and Bromelain to manage mine but am looking for some other ideas. Also, one thing that I have found to work really well is a brace I bought from here:
    Let me know if you have any other ideas on how to manage the pain and continue functioning normally!