A Hand Therapists Perspective
Certified Hand Therapists (CHTs) specialize in working with people with shoulder, arm, and hand problems.
People are surprised when they hear about our specialty – who knew there was a “specialist” available for such a “small” part of the body?
BUT… if your hands and arms are injured or in pain – it can be severely disabling. If you’ve ever had a sliver in your finger that you couldn’t dislodge, you know how distracting it can be to not be able to push, pinch or grip with force on items that you encounter in your daily life. Hand therapists focus on helping people to solve problems in these areas, and regular keyboard users can be “frequent fliers” in a hand therapy clinic.
Shoulder, arm, and hand pain or numbness can come from prolonged keyboard use, especially without a great ergonomic setup and great equipment. It also takes dedicated attention and effort throughout your workday to correct or prevent pain in your hands and arms.
Regular breaks to stretch the muscles of your arms and hands can make the difference between being able to type efficiently and comfortably and focus on your work OR being constantly aware of aching, pain, or numbness in your hands and arms and distracted from your work.
Research on the results of stretching, and its effect on athletic performance, has very mixed conclusions, and it’s hard to know what is actually worthwhile to do consistently. Details on the physiology of stretching are outlined very nicely in this summary article, and I can confidently from my clinical experience that people have had dramatic improvements in pain conditions once they commit to adding movement, breaks, and stretching in their day.
Here are the top three stretches I recommend for regular keyboard users – *as long as* there are no underlying conditions such as recent injury or joint hypermobility that would complicate the situation. In addition to the wrist and forearm area, one is for your neck and shoulder, and another is for the chest. Tightness in these areas particularly affects the arm, wrist, and hand, and keeping them limber improves the ability of these areas to use a keyboard throughout your day.
1. Forearm/wrist stretches – for both the top and bottom sides of your forearm. Hold each position for 20-30 seconds, and do 3-5 repetitions at a time.
2. Scalene stretches – do both sides of your neck. Use the bottom of your chair to help you feel the stretch, and you can move your head slightly from front to back to stretch different parts of the muscles. Hold for 20-30 seconds, and do 3-5 repetitions at a time.
3. Pectoralis/Chest stretches. Hold this position without too much arch in your back for 20-30 seconds, for 3-5 repetitions.
You should feel better, not worse, with these stretches. If you have pain or numbness that lasts longer than 4-6 weeks, you may need a more individualized program or changes to your ergonomic equipment, seating, or workload. If you feel somewhat better with these specific stretches, you may want to commit additional time in your week to a more comprehensive stretching program such as yoga. There are classes and styles of yoga, such as this one, that do not involve weight bearing on the arms, and this can be helpful if you are experiencing pain.
Additional risk factors for hand and arm problems include poor nutrition and lack of physical activity while away from your desk. If you need one more reason to take care of your general health or take up a new and physically active hobby, avoiding hand and arm pain is a good one!
About the author
JoAnn Keller, OTD, OTR/L, CHT has more than 25 years of experience working as an occupational therapist and Certified Hand Therapist. JoAnn is the owner of Hands for Living, in Lynnwood, WA, which specializes in the care of people with shoulder, arm, and hand problems. We can help you work with your employer and/or your on-site ergonomics specialist to get rid of hand and arm pain. www.handsforliving.com or reach us by phone at 425-368-7943.