33

I believe most of programmers sit in front of the computer for hours hours. This may cause painful shoulders, sometimes you may find it is hard to lift up the arms. If our hands stay on keyboards, hours later you may find the fingers get very cold.

Do you have the similar problems, how do you deal with it?

30 accepted

Take frequent breaks, for example walk around and stretch your arms and back every 30 minutes or so. Make sure your working environment is healthy, i.e. that you have a correct seating position, that your desk is positioned correctly etc. Make sure the room you're working in is not too cold.

Go the gym regularly, this helps to keep your body in shape. Eat healthy.

Don't underestimate this. RSI (repetitive strain injuries) can really mean you won't be able to spend any time behind a computer if you let it go too far.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repetitive_strain_injury

22

I can't believe nobody has said this yet...

See a doctor.

Seriously. If you are in pain, that's your body telling you something is wrong. If you don't sort it out now, it will get worse.

14

There's a combination of things that computer operators should do.

  1. Take regular breaks away from the computer - 5 minutes an hour for example. Get a coffee, go to the toilet, go for a fag or just go and chat around the water cooler about last night's Pop Idol.

  2. Stretches. There are a set of stretches you can do in your chair, usually involving your arms.

  3. Complain about poorly positioned air conditioning / get a doctor's note saying it's bad if it is really bad, so you can get a better location, and/or chair.

  4. Chairs. You should have a decent one. It's where you will sit for a third of your weekday life. Set it so you don't have bad posture.

  5. Monitor height. A bad neck could be because your monitor isn't at a good height and you are looking down too much (for example).

I'm sure there are more things as well!

13

Before programmers, pianists were fighting this problem for over a century. The answer is total relaxation from the shoulders down to the wrists. Relaxation is achieved mostly through posture.

Your seat should be high enough so that your forearms are parallel to the ground while your arms are hanging totally relaxed from the shoulders. Make sure your wrist is relaxed, fingers gently curved, in the same position it would have if hanging from your arms while walking.

Shoulder pain comes from the constant tension needed to keep your forearm/wrists in an unnaturally high position. Blood will have to fight gravity to reach the fingers, leading to cold hands.

Beware that if you're using a laptop, a low keyboard positioning implies a low screen positioning. You should have an external monitor so that you can keep your forearms low and your head straight simultaneously, or else you'll risk neck strain.

12

SORRY FOR THE LONG POST - BUT IF YOU HAVE NECK PAIN - READ THIS.

Hi,

I have had neck/left arm problems too over the last six months and have found it due to bad posture both while using a computer and also at work (dentistry). I have researched it quite a bit because my job depends on being able to hold a sitting position comfortably for hours at a time.

Pathology - why it hurts The neck/arm pain comes from overworking of the muscles in the back of the neck and shoulder blades with continuous and unvaried holding of a forward tilted head position. The muscles become fatigued and get small regions of permanent contraction ('knots', 'trigger points') within them. These sore points are hypoxic (not enough oxygen) because their blood supply has been clamped shut by the permanent tense contraction, and they radiate pain throughout the muscle. The neck joint capsules and ligaments also become strained and inflamed leading to long lasting, perhaps permanent damge, even arthritis. Headaches/migraines can also result.

Solution 1 - posture and exercises - advised by my physiotherapist - I was surprised - this really, really works!!

a) Posture - Hold your head almost as far back as it can go - this means your head is above your body, not in front of it and the back of neck muscles don't have to work so hard. Your head weight (5-7 kg, some bigger than others!;-)) is then supported straight down onto your spine. It takes quite some effort to hold this position all day (and it looks a little odd), but it is really important, and really makes a difference. Also you need to arch your back, shoulders back, to give both your lower back, and also your neck the concave shapes (lordosis) they are supposed to have. Less trapped nerves / slipped disks.

b) Exercises - do in this order - really effective

i) Hold your head back in the position described in a) above and slowly turn your head left and right about 20 times, like you mean to indicate "No"
ii) Holding the same retruded head position, tilt your head sideways directly to the left about 10 times, then to the right about 10 times. i.e. the top of your head tilts off the vertical axis to the side. You'll feel things creaking, perhaps painful. The more painful, the worse your necks condition - as you improve over days the pain will reduce and fianlly perhaps go. iii) Rotate your head sideways in the horizontal plane - like you are looking left or right, but as far as it will turn. Even get your hands to rotate your head past where the muscles can take it (but don't break anything!). This also might hurt if you neck is bad, but will become pain free as you improve. iv) Then roll your head around in a big orbit to get maximum stretching in all positions.

These exercises are really amazingly effective - I could not believe it after having been a bit skeptical of how a physiotherapist could really help without drugs/surgery. Bear in mind the physio helps just by teaching you to do the exercises perhaps 5-7 times per day initially, less when the problem is under control. Their massage, heat packs etc in their rooms is not that effective. It has to be your change in posture, and in regular exercising over days that makes for an improvement. I got much relieve in just four or five days.

Solution 2 - Hardware

a) The standing desk is a great solution which I have not yet got but it has been condoned in Joel Spolsky's blog as he decided how to refit his developer's office. It works because as soon as you stand, the lower concave shape (lordosis) on the lower spine is restored. The upper spine/head position also then automatically improves too.

b) While standing is a help, it does, as Chris mentions, put a great strain on your legs and perhaps lower back. I think from first principles that the best solution would be a reclining chair with tilted table to hold a laptop or keyboard almost vertical, with arm rests to support your arms up to the keyboard. This 'NASA astronaut' position, sometimes termed the zero gravity position by some recliner chair manufacturers, leaves the whole body's musculature relaxed. There are plenty of recliner chairs for sale, but at a hefty price $1000 - $2,500, but not with arm rests to a clamped laptop/keyboard. I have a rough design, and would like to make such a reclining chair/workstation, but have not the time so far.

It would still be important to move from this reclined position regularly though, perhaps every 20-30 min. No matter how relaxed the muscles are, they can not function well without regular movement. Perhaps a time clock alarm could be built into the chair to remind you to get up and have a walk around and do the stretch esxercises.

What do you guys think? The exercises have really helped me. I am now out of pain and my career has been saved - it could have stopped me from doing dentistry which is such a great and satisfying thing to do. The neck physio info comes from a book by Rioobin McKenzie I got from my physiotherapist. See www.mckenziemdt.org

Cheers,

Martin

PS another neck tip is to place a rolled up towel under your neck at night to sleep - it maintains that all important neck concave curvature (lordosis). Pillows which are bulky in the middle tilt your head forward which is bad. The bottom edge of the pillow needs to be bulky under your neck, with a hollow in the middle for your head to sit in. A solid foam pillow can't be shaped properly so a feather pillow is best, or cut up the foam into small pieces so it can be distributed as required under the neck. Some people put the rolled up towel in the bottom edge of the pillow case to hold it there.

5

To solve the problem of cold fingers I sometimes use (knitted) fingerless mittens that extend . Your fingers are still uncovered which makes it easy to type, but the hand and wrist gets warm and thus makes the fingers warmer too. Works wonders for me who have really cold hands.

5

I have been using WorkRave to help me remember taking breaks in the periods where my arms are killing me.

It's basically an annoying tray app that reminds you in a highly configurable way.

With lots of sheep.

4

For the shoulders: make sure your lower arms don't rest on the table, but "hang" from your shoulders. This is important, because resting them against the table causes the shoulder muscle (trapezius muscle) to tighten. This may lead to painful shoulders. See this link for adjusting your sitting posture. It works for me at least.

4

Robot arms. Obviously.

3

Armrests and a heater.

3

Cold fingers can also result from wrong keyboards: most keyboards force you to bend your wrists upwards, thus cutting the blood flow. It's much better to keep the wrists level or even slightly bent downwards. Unfortunately, most keyboards are built so the upper keys are higher from the table than the lower keys.

However, some keyboards, such as the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 do it right: they are slightly tilted downwards so that your wrists can rest easily on the raised base and bend naturally downwards:

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

My wrists feel much better since using such a keyboard.

3

I use on of these (Rollermouse Pro) at work. It's a replacement mouse that sits under your keyboard.

It basically means that your hands stay much closer to the keyboard, so your arm does a lot less travelling... my right hand only needs to move about 2 inches down when I want to use the mouse, rather than moving a foot to the right.

It's not cheap though, so see if you can get your company to fork out for it.

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2

I rarely sit in front of the computer for hours at a time any more. Short breaks (toilet, coffee, or just a walk) are key. I also do exercises at my desk at times, wrist rotations/flexes and so forth, enough to keep the circulation going.

Also an ergonomic keyboard may help - I use one and find it helps with long coding sessions.

2

Do not sit in front of a computer for long periods without a break. Take regular short breaks, stand up and stretch. Make yourself a cup of coffee or look dreamily out of the window. Human beings can develop all sorts of niggling problems if they are stuck in one position for a long period of time.

If you are experiencing pain, tingling, numbness, weakness in the arms or hands, or cold fingers go and see a doctor. They will give you much better and more reliable advice than you will ever find on the internet.

2

First, you must check you desk and chair's position and height, and the way you sit in front of your computer. If you fix this, I think you should be able to sit for several hours without any shoulder pain, backache or fingers getting cold.

Drink lot of water. This way, you will be forced to go to urinals, hence you can walk a bit and stretch your body.

I have some kind of Yoga exercises which really relieves me of backache problems (which are actually not caused do to long hours sitting in front of computer).

2

Besides a good posture I found that minimizing the use of the mouse will do a lot towards relaxation, and hence towards the elimination of muscle and tendon strain. I do this by using keyboard oriented applications like Vim, Ratpoison, ViPlugin for Eclipse, etc. as much as possible, or customizing the environment to use the keyboard in mouse oriented applications (I'm a heavy user of AutoHotKey while on Windows.)

2

A combination of things in my case.

  1. Correct posture when sitting
  2. Getting up and moving around every 30 minutes or so
  3. Flexing your fingers, arms, legs, and toes regularly to help keep the blood moving in your limbs.
  4. Not overdoing it

I've personally never tried angling my keyboard downwards instead of upwards, but I might give it a shot seeing as that seems to be recommended too.

2

Relax. Whenever it enters your mind feel your shoulders relax. They should be dropped and back far enough that your shoulderblades protrude from your upper-middle back slightly.

Your desk should be low enough so that your arms are horizontal.

Stretch your neck regularly. Take the opportunity when you're having thinking time. The back and sides of your neck should be relaxed, with your chin tucked into your neck so that you're looking slightly below the horizontal. Focus on relaxing by looking up and slowly dropping your chin until you feel tension in the sides of your neck. If you do this enough you'll be able to bring your chin down far enough to feel your vertebrae touching the collar of your shirt (assuming your shirt has a collar) with your neck still relaxed. This builds the muscles that surround your spine.

This is all really important stuff. After 9 months of 12-hour days I recently woke up with a sprained neck because I hadn't been caring for my body. Not only is it incredibly painful, but the lost productivity (and the masses of work that builds up in your absence) makes these few considerations so worthwhile.

Cold fingers are a sign of poor circulation. In theory this means stop smoking and reduce caffeine. Since that's not likely I'd take an aspirin, green tea or a beer :)

2

Drink lots of water. This will force you to get up and walk to the bathroom. You can take these as short breaks.

2

I find drinking copious amounts of water helps.

No - really!

Because I always have a pint glass of water at my desk, I'm constantly:

  • Going to fill it up
  • Going to the toilet

This way, I not only remain well hydrated, but am forced to get up every 15-30 minutes and walk to either the kitchen or the toilet.

Combine this with a bowl of fruit and you're suddenly a much healthier person, despite your sedentary career choice.

I also purchased a gimmicky power-ball - despite being a gimmick they're amazing to fiddle with when waiting for the kettle to boil, or standing outside having thinking time, and keep my wrist/shoulders active.

2

I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned: cold fingers can be a sign of carpal tunnel syndrom. It is a repetitive stress injury (I got mine from being a grocery store cashier in High school). Presuming that is what you have, I would recommend: 1) cold on the wrist (e.g. ice pack), 2) If you hold the hand with cold fingers over the keyboard, pull back the fingers with the other hand -- this is advice I got from a doctor.

If you have back pain, you may need a new chair.

2

Get your doctor to refer you to a physiotherapist. No, I'm not kidding, I let symptoms ride for years, and ended up with nerve problems in my arms from bad posture. In my case, it was a problem around the C6/C7 vertabrae. I could reach for something, tweak the nerve and end up rolling around the floor in agony.

I won't recommend any exercises because such things are very specific to your own problem and need to be prescribed by a professional familiar with your case. A competent physio helped me a lot... even just by telling me to sit up straight and stop poking my chin at the monitor or resting my chin in my hand! It took a few weeks of manipulation and strapping to see big improvements, but just knowing (a) what I was doing wrong and (b) that it was treatable, was a huge immediate psychological relief.

But there are simple things you can do to help your situation. Get a better chair. Get an ergonomic keyboard (the MS naturals are good, but avoid the Elite model, its cursor keys are weird). One thing that's helped me a lot is moving the mouse down off the desk entirely and using it on a board in my lap: especially important if you're a big gamer like me. It gets your mouse arm hanging down much more naturally. You could also consider getting a bigger mouse, small ones make you cock your wrist and give you problems there (it's a pity Logitech don't make their HUGE mouseman anymore, those were great).

I repeat - don't let this lie - see a physio.

2

A couple of tactics I use to relieve posture related issues.

  1. Use a powerball. 5 minutes a day at low revs in both hands does wonders for your upper body strength.
  2. When you breath in pull your shoulders backwards, in the same sort of motion you would use to puff out your chest, this helps to strengthen the back and neck muscles and equalise them if one side is stronger then the other and causing problems. I was prescribed this by a physiotherapist to help with tendonitis in my shoulder and have just continued on with it after the symptoms disappeared because it seems to prevent me from getting back pains due to uncomfortable seating etc.
  3. Use workrave to force yourself to have breaks.
  4. Fidget a lot :) sounds silly but does help to prevent pain due to bad posture for long periods of time.
  5. Relax your entire body and go completely limp then tense all your muscles together. Repeat this 5 times together and do once per hour.
1

Cold fingers can result from a cold environment or from sitting with your keyboard too high. Sore shoulders are probably caused by bad posture or bad ergonomics of yoru work station.

I'd suggest looking at the environment around you, is the aircon always on high, or is it blowing directly at you? Do you have a good chair? a wrist protector? is the top of your monitor at eye level? is your desk high or low enough.

these things are usually environmental, however if you are still havin issues see a doctor at your sore shoulders may be indicitive of back problems and your cold fingers might be caused by poor circulation.

1

You should get a DSE Risk Assessment from a qualified body - such as a registered Chiropractor. They will assess your posture and the ergonomics of your workstation.

Google Search for DSE Assessment

1

I am still waiting for the keyboard and mouse with built in heater to appear in the shops...

1

Doing your work right under the ventilation is a good way to get these. I recommend also trying chairs that don't offer proper support and either force you stay too far away from the display or to adjust the table to be too high.

1

There have been plenty of good answers to this question, but I want to add one point. Cold fingers can be caused by pinched nerves in the elbows. I've been struggling with shoulder and hand problems like this off and on for years.

The good news is that relieving the shoulder issues seems to solve the problem of cold fingers. For me, the shoulder problems are helped by keeping the keyboard at the right height (forearms parallel or slightly below parallel) and not leaning on my hands.

1

I had a minor case or RSI once, after gaming for a day solid. I made a few changes and a few days later it was better:

  1. I wore fingerless gloves and./or a sweatband around my wrist to keep my joints warm.
  2. I did some hand/finger stretching exercises every maybe half hour for a minute or so.
  3. I put my keyboard on my lap so that my hands sloped down, away from my body (rather than upwards as they normally would if the keyboard is on the desk, especially if the back end of the keyboard is raised).

You should take regular breaks (but I still never do it...). Having the monitor at a good height helps me too.

Cayenne Pepper also helps circulation and will help against cold hands.

1

For the "cold fingers" issue, make sure your torso is warm enough; wearing a warmer shirt or a light jacket may help.

A while back, I was having a problem with cold fingers; I was considering getting a pair of fingerless gloves (as some other commenters have suggested). I eventually figured out that I was just too cold in general (although my hands were where I was feeling the cold the most), and started wearing a light jacket while at my desk. Once my entire body was warm enough due to wearing the jacket, my "cold hands" issue went away.

1

I suffer from numbness in my little finger and ring finger on my right hand from using the mouse... been getting it slowly for years now and I can't seem to shake it off.

I have started using a rollerball mouse (Logitech TrackMan Wheel) which has the roller ball under the thumb, and this has help a little... but I still grab the mouse too hard..

1

Well I agree that if you feel pain probably the first solution is seeing a doctor.

Said that, my experience is that a good way to simply avoid these problems is the practice of Tai Chi Chuan (that's the reason of the little white figure on my gravatar).

Tai Chi Chuan will bring relaxation, more balance, a better knowledge of your own body, even some martial skills (if you find the right school and after years).

Obviously you won't practice TCC simply to avoid pain when working with a PC: but this kind of activities will bring many benefits to your whole life, and I think that they are more interesting than a "simple" gym training (but this a very personal opinion).

1

I agree that seeing a doctor is the first thing to do. Then I would install WorkPace and read one of Emil Pascarelli's books on the subject. Do not ignore discomfort. I speak from personal experience when I say that taking action on this can mean the difference between continuing your current career and not being able to use your hands anymore.

1

I wasn't much interested in timer software, but found Stretchware to be pretty unobtrusive, and reminded me to keep my body moving and not sit for hours at a time without a break. My previous employer had this installed on all computers, and it helped me so much that my shoulders didn't hurt anymore, nor were my hands cold.

Much of the other advice from above is very good and important too. Especially the advice about seeing a doctor if you're in pain.

Bottom line: stop doing what you're doing if you're in pain. Evaluate and adjust until you find the best ergonomic setup, and the best way to not spend hours without a break while still being highly productive.

0

I recently found a way for myself to reduce the problem without pain, Wii Tennis help my shoulders and fingers. I really like it.

-1

using a laptop can help, even though your typing will slow, laptops are automatically the right distance away for good shoulder position, and they usually come with under keyboard heaters (called CPUs).