Ergonomic Tools to Prevent Writing-Related Pain

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Based on the number of you who Tweeted, linked, and emailed me about my last post, I can tell that writing-related pain is a common complaint! Although you should always consult your doctor with concerns about writing-related pain (notice the standard disclaimer gobbledegook–I’m not a doc, so please don’t take this as medical advice, etc!), I thought I’d share some of the tools that I’ve found helpful. Please add your suggestions in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!

 

 

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Cheryl-Tested Ergonomic Tools

A few of my favorites include:

  • Microsoft’s ergonomic mouse and split keyboard—truth is, the ergonomic mouse isn’t fantabulous. If I was still having active hand and wrist pain, it might not do the trick for me; but it’s far superior to a normal mouse, and, when purchased with the split keyboard, the price is right. The keyboard is my favorite split keyboard EVER, with a bit of a slant and a padded wrist rest that make it far more comfortable than its competitors. (Plus it looks cool, all shiny and curvy…but that’s another tale!)
  • Lifeform chair—pricey, but oh so much nicer than any others I’ve tried. In the right parts of the country, these show up on Craigslist occasionally for half price.
  • Wacom Bamboo tablet—recommended by my illustrator friend Anna-Maria, this tablet is not just for artists. It’s great for any work that requires cutting and pasting, dragging and dropping, and other movements that would otherwise require extended mousework, and it allows you to customize the functionality of buttons and taps. Although the model I purchased is no longer available, any tablet-style input for your computer will allow you to switch up your hand position and muscles used, helping to avoid repetitive use pain and injury. Wacom now offers the Bamboo Pad, specifically designed for computer navigation, as well as an array of pricier models (the Intuos Pen Tablet looks closest to the Bamboo Tablet I use) designed for artists, illustrators, graphic artists, and more.
  • Logitech comfort lapdesk—if you work on your laptop on the sofa (like I do), this lap desk provides great support plus insulation from the computer’s heat. It doesn’t raise the computer screen quite high enough for proper neck alignment, but if it did, you couldn’t reach the keyboard. I think this is the best solution!
  • Rock “N” Stop Footrest—although you wouldn’t think it, adding a footrest is a surprisingly easy way to ease many cases of back pain. I like this one because it rocks, perfectly suiting my ADD-ish need to fidget without being too obvious.
  • My hand therapist swears by the Evoluent vertical mouse, but it left me indifferent at best. Ultimately, the solution to my hand and wrist woes proved to be a combination of dictation software and switching up between a computer mouse and the Wacom Bamboo tablet.
  • Dragon Dictation is astonishingly good at voice recognition and, with a little training, will let you compose hands-free. I find it most useful when I’m transcribing text previously written longhand–I haven’t yet learned to enter the state of creative flow while dictating–but it’s saved me hours of typing. You do have to do a good job proofing, of course, since it’s likely to use the wrong homonym (“you’re” in place of “yore” just doesn’t work). If you go this route, spring for the pricier Dragon Professional, which is far more powerful than the “Home” version.

When You’re in Pain

When you’re in active pain, though, chances are that none of the above tools will make you feel better. In the meantime, ice can help reduce pain and inflammation for some types of injuries. This article on SaveYourself.ca – Sensible Advice for Aches, Pains, and Injuries provides a great overview of when and how to use ice to treat pain. It also explains how to create an “ice cup”–a must-have tool if you’re icing. I’ve also found that creams containing Arnica, a natural antiinflammatory compound, are helpful. Penetrex, which has a nice smell, is my personal favorite.

Do you have any ergonomic tools or home remedies to recommend? Please share in the comments–I’ll add them to the list above!

Hurting Hands, Neck, or Shoulders? Ten Tips for Pain-Free Writing

WHAM

It’s the best feeling: being in the flow, seeing the scene unfold in my mind as my hands hurry to record the vision. Words pour onto the page until…

WHAM

Pain jerks me out of the zone with all the subtlety of a midnight fire alarm. Hand cramps—wrist ache—stiff shoulders—cricked neck…do any of these sound familiar?

I used to think that writing was all about my brain coming up with ideas, sculpting words into prose. Lately, I’ve had to admit that my brain can’t do its creating thing very well without my body’s cooperation. And when my body hurts, it refuses to cooperate!

Fortunately, there are some easy adjustments you can make that will decrease the physical strain of writing—so you can get back to creating.

Ergonomics-Graphic2Ergonomic Tips for Pain-Free Writing

1. Pay attention to your body.

If your body starts sending out pain signals when you write, don’t ignore them. Trust me: pain is a warning sign that something isn’t working. If you ignore those signs, they’ll probably worsen until you do pay attention. Ask yourself: Is there a single activity that makes your hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, etc., hurt? What position are you in when it hurts? Can you adjust at all? Keep reading to find areas where you might be able to improve your body position.Continue Reading

Windows 8 for Writers?

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I had a recent scare when my computer threatened to die in the midst of a deadline-driven project. I needed a new computer—one that wasn’t on the brink of death—and I needed it immediately. As in, before my old machine gave up the ghost with catastrophic timing.

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Normally, I would take my time choosing a new computer: research which version of Windows I wanted, how fast the computer I wanted, test out keyboards, etc., and then I’d probably buy from online because that’s usually where you can find the best deals. In this case, however, I needed to buy a new computer from some place where I could carry it out of the store and have it up and running in a matter of hours, which meant my options were pretty limited. Since it turned out that my computer shopping expedition coincided almost exactly with the Windows 8 release date, I came home with a computer with a touchscreen and Windows’ wacky new operating system.

I’m not big on change, so I probably would not have gone this route except for the time crunch. Now, having used Windows 8 for a few weeks, it’s starting to grow on me.

The Good

  1. I love the touchscreen. I worried that it would take some getting used to, and decrease my productivity in the meantime; instead, I got used to it so quickly that when I use a computer that doesn’t have a touchscreen now, I find myself trying to scroll up and down, click, and move windows around on the screen with my finger. The touchscreen definitely speeds up portions of my writing process because it is slightly faster to navigate between through documents using the touchscreen then it is using keystrokes or a mouse.
  2. The touchscreen has a second unanticipated benefit. As someone who spends way too much time either on the computer were writing longhand, I have a perpetually inflamed tendon in my right wrist. I’ve worked with the physical therapist, know the right stretches to do, and so on, but I found that the single best thing I can do for my hand is to change up the way I use it. That is, I tried to avoid repetitive motions by switching between the keyboard, voice dictation, different types of mice, and a Wacom bamboo tablet when working on my computer. The touchscreen gives me one more option, one that I find easy to use with my left hand as well as my right and one that is significantly easier on my hand then using a mouse.
  3. The Windows 8 interface has a significant cool factor. I’m not convinced that finding programs is easier using Windows 8, but it’s not more difficult either. Little by little, I’ve been rearranging the "tiles" to make the programs I use most often more accessible. And I kind of like some of the bells and whistles, like the fact that the tile for pictures scrolls through my recent photos.
  4. A surprise bonus—apparently, the camera on this new computer (the acer Aspire V5, for those who are interested) is far superior to that on my old machine. Since I do quite a bit of video calling, it was cool to learn that my picture is much clearer!

The Bad

  1. Although Windows 8 provides a sleek, simple interface for accessing programs, at times it’s almost too simple. For instance, the built in application for looking at photos is great for looking at photos — but that’s it. In their attempt to simplify, it seems that many of the built in applications have lost functionality.
  2. Third party applications that are compatible with Windows 8 seemed to have the same problem. For instance, there’s a very slick Windows 8 version of Skype. It fills the entire screen, it’s pretty, and it performs basic Skype functions like sending and receiving calls. However, if you want to use Skype’s more advanced features such as the ability to transfer files, you need to reinstall an earlier version of Skype on the "desktop" which, as far as I can tell, is Microsoft’s nod at the fact that almost no programs are actually ready to run on their new operating system.
  3. Certain web browsers also seem to have issues with Windows 8. I’m certainly no expert in this arena, but apparently "plug–ins" such as QuickTime and Google voice/video fail to function when running the browser in Windows 8 mode. This seems to be the result of Microsoft’s push toward “plug–in free browsing”. My interpretation is that Microsoft doesn’t work and play well with others, which is created a number of conflicts with other programs I find especially useful. Bummer. On the flipside, I’ve been able to work around most of these problems by running programs in the desktop mode.

The Conclusion

Overall, I’m darned happy with my new Windows 8 machine. I think it will take a while for third-party programs to catch up with the new operating system. In fact, I think it’s taking Microsoft a while to catch up with its new operating system, based on some of the glitches I’ve found in their programs as well as those written by other software developers.

Note: I also think the Windows 8 interface would be much less user-friendly without the touchscreen, so if you’re thinking of giving it a try, make sure to test drive the touchscreen version.

But I’m warning you—you might never readjust to the normal, non-touch variety!

Anyone else have experience with Windows 8 and/or a touchscreen computer? What do you like or not like?