I went to doctors, who slapped my fragile wrists into custom-made splints. I had cortisone injected directly into my wrists. I went to physical therapy and squeezed little cushiony balls. I received a few weeks of "light duty." All the while, I swallowed ibuprofen in near fatal quantities.
If the dead didn't do it, the 'net nearly finished my wrists off.
My daily missives and lengthy e-mails to friends, searching the 'net (in the days before the Web), pointing and clicking my way through FTP and gopher sites, posting to newsgroups and hanging out in chat rooms cast me into further suffering. The mouse was a rat and a fink; after an hour of using it, I sometimes felt numbness in my fingers.
Welcome to the world of repetitive stress injury, a painful place filled with terms such as tendonitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It used to be occupied only by those who worked in offices. But considering more people are logging onto the 'net at home, families are a target as well. A couple of hours of accessing the 'net daily can put you in the same potentially crippling arena as a professional data cruncher. If you work on a computer by day, then come home and surf at night, your chances of straining your muscles doubles or triples. If you like Inter Relay Chat or those infamous online service chat rooms, consider that just a few sessions of typing, at speeds fast enough to keep up a "conversation," can put you in the splints. What's to blame? Your keyboard.
"The typewriter was much safer for the human body because of one critical aspect and that is, it did not allow you to rest your wrists while you typed," notes Deborah Quilter, co-author of the book Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User's Guide (Wiley & Sons, New York).
The introduction of a flat keyboard for computers took away that safety. The inherent keyboard design forces people to use the delicate muscles in their arms and wrists, rather than the heavier muscles in their backs that the typewriter tended to utilize.
Funny thing is, computer keyboards didn't have to be designed even remotely similar to their typewriter companions. The standard keyboard, starting with the letters QWERTY in the upper left hand corner, was set up with the keys close together so that the old-fashioned metal striking mechanism could work. Taking that out of the equation allows for a greater interpretation of how a keyboard can be designed.
Enter in wacky new ergonomic keyboards. Ergonomics is the study of how to adapt people to their environments and it has become a buzzword in the past few years as the number of repetitive stress injuries skyrocketed.
Of course, there's worker's compensation to pay for the damages if you can prove you wrecked your wrists, your eyesight or your back while on the job. What about those who simply use their computers at home, to access the Internet? Or those who aggravate existing problems with poor computer setups at home? Not many home computer owners really consider the placement of their equipment, how they sit or the quality of the lighting in which they work, Quilter notes. That puts them even more at risk.
But consider that the average cost cited to treat serious tendonitis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome cases ranges from $12,000 to $26,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Maybe it's worth investing in some preventative equipment and practicing a little precaution when using your computer.
But the other problem, even when using a special keyboard, is that most people type too hard. If you don't update your keyboard, at least invest in a wrist rest -- then position your chair in a way so that your feet are flat on the floor, that your back is straight, and importantly, that your hands meet the keyboard in a flat, relaxed line. Then, when you type, use a light touch.
Perhaps the most vital key is not to brush off pain. Tendonitis and CTS can lead to permanent nerve damage, possibly crippling the ability to use your wrists.
Back side stories
No matter what you use to protect your wrists, for goodness sakes, get in the habit of checking your sitting position and become aware of where you're working. And take regular breaks. Pull yourself away from the dark hole that can come in so many forms on the 'net, from lengthy IRCsessions to scooting around Web sites or just writing lots of e-mail. Pet your cat, take out the trash. There's a whole world out there, you know.