We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

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Bring the needles and the knives

Well, maybe not the knives.  I visited an acupuncturist today, in the latest scouting mission in my campaign against RSI.  I’ve experienced chronic pain and discomfort in my arms and wrists for years now, and have tried various other types of physical therapy, but this was my first of this type.

I spent most of the session talking with the practitioner, explaining the history of my symptoms.  She was emphatic that I seek to fix the problem at its root by correcting the ergonomics of my workstations.  This is clearly necessary, but in spite of several rounds of experimentation I have not been able to solve it on my own yet.  Thankfully, she was able to recommend a colleague who specializes in this particular area of ergonomics, and I’ll see what comes of that.

The acupuncture treatment itself was a very curious affair.  The sensation of a needle penetrating the thick band of tension in my arm muscles was quite unfamiliar and difficult to describe.  It felt almost as if something were pressing hard on the entire length of the muscle.

It does seem to have relieved some of the tension, and I’m interested to see the effect of repeated treatments.  I’m also left with a curious feeling of lightness which lasted the entire 20-minute walk home.  It was a little bit like having ingested caffeine.

My question of the evening: How long before we have input devices of comparable speed and accuracy which don’t abuse our bodies so?


Written by Matt Zimmerman

September 8, 2008 at 21:23

Posted in Uncategorized

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14 Responses

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  1. I had similar problems for about 4 years before I hit upon something that worked: amitriptyline. It’s a 50 year old antidepressant with few side effects (dry mouth, sleepiness), that made my RSI manageable with sub-psychoactive doses (between 40mg and 70mg daily). Add to that a Kinesis keyboard, wrist supports, daily exercises, and a highly competent massage therapist, and I’m golden.

    The “the thick band of tension in my arm muscles” sound similar to what I suffered. They’re called “trigger points” and treatable with regular palpation (although better ergonomics is a more sustainable solution).

    Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Good luck. RSI is a shitty, shitty illness.


    September 8, 2008 at 21:56

  2. Have you already tried a trackball instead of a mouse?
    It doesn’t solve the keyboard problem, but it solves the pointing device problem.

    I use a trackball at home and a mouse at work. That way I’ve got some change from time to time. Should help against RSI …


    September 8, 2008 at 21:58

  3. I had the same problem until buying the Microsoft Ergonomical Natural 4000 keyboard. It sounds crazy, but is the best keyboard on the market.

    It actually went from my wrists being sore to not anymore. The key is the way the keys are concave and the front side tilts up.


    Say what you want about microsoft being themselves, but for ergonomics, they make the best keyboards and mice.


    September 8, 2008 at 22:13

  4. I guess this explains that funky keyboard on your desk, I thought you were just weird. :p


    September 8, 2008 at 22:29

  5. On Windows, Dragon NaturallySpeaking allows for very fast and accurate dictation. Never tried to control a whole system with it, but not having to type your documents and emails might already relieve your arms a bit.

    Obviously, we need such a thing in Ubuntu.


    September 8, 2008 at 23:35

  6. And of course, good luck! Having a good workstation and leaving it often for a walk seems very important. (You probably know about the forced pause thing in gnome-keyboard-properties.)


    September 8, 2008 at 23:39

  7. Don’t forget that joint issues can be a stealth auto-immune type of condition like arthritis. This means you should alter other aspects of your lifestyle to encourage a healthy immune response in your body. On thing that can definitely get your immune system goofy is lack of sleep. The first thing two things to do after ergonomic changes would be make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of restful sleep and make sure you’re getting plenty of physical exercise. Throw in some supplements like vitamin C and a multi-vitamin and you may find that your RSI just goes away. Oh, and cut way way down on the caffeine. Some people can have pretty bizarre reactions to it that they would never imagine could be related.

    DJ Saltarelli

    September 8, 2008 at 23:49

  8. I find that the mouse has a lot to do with the problem. I got a Logitech Trackball, and it solved a lot of pain. Useless for gaming, tho’.


    September 9, 2008 at 01:12

  9. Have you tried a datahand keyboard?
    Mine have worked very well for me…

    fellow typist

    September 9, 2008 at 01:42

  10. I take it you’re already using Workrave, right?



    September 9, 2008 at 03:25

  11. In case you don’t have a tablet (eg Wacom) to alternate with the mouse, do get one. It solved it for me.


    September 9, 2008 at 08:43

  12. One option is to switch to DVORAK. You get an immediate plus, you type much slower because you don’t have a clue where any of the keys are. This gives you a chance to heal. Once healed, and up to speed on DVORAK, it requires less movement from the homerow and back.


    September 9, 2008 at 17:49

  13. People dislike Microsoft for their many lies and sins against their customers, but they have driven down the price of ergonomic keyboards. Before MS these used to cost 80+ USD.

    If your work surface is too high get the old style cream/white with positive slope:
    Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite (PS2/USB) = 25 USD

    If your surface is at the right height, get the new style black/gray with flat/negative slope:
    Microsoft Natural Ergo Keyboard 4000 (USB only) = 40 USD

    In other news:
    TradElect, the Microsoft .Net based trading platform for the London Stock Exchange, was offline for about seven hours, meaning that their 5-nines SLAs are shot for approximately the next 100 years. All keyboards and mice were working fine.


    September 9, 2008 at 19:09

  14. On keyboards: I have used a Kinesis Advantage keyboard for the past couple of years, which I think has helped some. I’m using it about half of the time now, and a ThinkPad T series the other half. I tried a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard but found it both uncomfortable (the keys required too much force) and of poor quality (the space bar stopped working on one side after a month)

    On keyboard layouts: I also use a Dvorak layout and have for nearly a decade now. It seemed to help, though I changed a lot of other things at the time to try to improve ergonomics. I think the slowdown and break from typing certainly contributed.

    On pointing devices: At the office, I use a plain Logitech three-button mouse with a wheel. At home, I use the built-in TrackPoint. I’ve never tried a trackball or a tablet, so thanks for those ideas.

    On software: I used to use workrave, but found it too buggy (it would lock me out of my session sometimes by grabbing the keyboard and mouse at the wrong time). I’m now using the simple built-in typing break functionality in GNOME, which works well enough.

    On voice recognition: I’ve never tried this, because the best software is only available on Windows. I expect it’s rubbish for programming, but might be useful for email. I wonder about how editing tasks work, for example, trimming quotes in an email. I should have macros for those things anyway, I suppose.


    September 9, 2008 at 20:27

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