Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ouch Typing

I hope no nurse or doctor or anatomist ever reads this and diagnoses me with something awful, but I've had a weird thing happen today. 

To set the scene: a day rarely goes by when I don't type.  It's partly because I love what I do and partly that self-employed can't-say-no thing. Some days less than others, say if more editing than transcribing, but some days it can be typing from dawn to dusk. 

I'm not really conscious of actually typing but today my body has made me conscious of NOT typing!  Yesterday I didn't go near my keyboard.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the lounger was there and today my arms are killing me! 

Aching forearms, feel weak as a kitten and kind of twitchy fingers.  It's really scared me because the only thing I've done differently is not do what I normally do! 

But then I remembered something similar happened when I was on holiday last.  For the first couple of days, my hands and arms were really not behaving but it didn't matter as long I could pick up a glass or a fork and open the suntan lotion. Today, I really wanted to do a bit of gardening and I'm about to chop some onions and my arms are not willing.

I'm sure I'll be fine, but I'm wondering a bit now about how folk like me who type for a living should actually be looking after their hands and arms.  I'm not talking nail varnish and hand cream or serious stuff like arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.  More in my mind is muscles and tendons.  With the Olympics now started, I'm asking myself, after a day of typing should I be plunging my hands and arms into an ice bath at the end of a day?

Like all sensible people, I first consulted Dr Google with my symptoms and then, having scared myself witless, took a different tack and looked at a bit of anatomy. 

Gross picture showing how your fingers are basically hanging off bits of string attached to your arm

I read once that you don't have any muscles in your fingers, and I bore people with this fascinating fact whenever I can at the slightest conversational provocation. What I did not know (having assumed the muscles in your hand controlled these finger tendons a la the thingy bone is connected to the next thingy bone) is that actually it's the forearm muscle at the top (by 'top' I mean as you look down at your arms while typing) which moves your fingers and the tendons extend all the way up there!  So that would explain why my arms are aching today rather than my hands and fingers hurting.  It would also explain why I have freakishly muscly forearms for someone who does zip exercise!  

The most interesting and informative (and well-written) piece I read about arm and hand anatomy and injury and so on, was actually aimed at pianists.  It is really worth reading although quite long, but that's because the author seems to be a very carefully minded person and wants to provide information and background beyond a 'five things every pianist must know about their hands and arms' BuzzFeed-style list.  But since I'm not, here are the five things to eliminate:

  • Stressful movements
  • Awkward positions
  • Co-contraction – working two opposing muscles at the same time when normally one should relax while the other contracts
  • Static muscular effort – keeping a muscle contracted for a long time
  • Excessive force

His key message seems to be that any task which requires repetitive movement can be done injury and pain free for many years if these five things are removed from the equation.

I've got brownie points here because in an idiot savant and random way I addressed them a few years ago. 

I do all my work on a PC (for security reasons) and had always just used a normal PC keyboard but as a friend once noted, "It sounds like you're jangling bones." So when I was going to be doing some captioning work in a venue about three years ago, I needed something quieter and got a little wireless keyboard and weirdly it was way easier and faster. 

Lesson learned, I just used this once back working at home.  It meant less effort to get the keys down, smaller so meant less stretching – but then I do have scary small hands for a grown-up, can barely do an octave on a piano and have got "dots for nails" as a manicurist once noted – and I could type even faster.  

I upgraded and now am a total fan girl of the Microsoft Bluetooth Wedge Keyboard. I live in fear of them stopping making it (because it was designed to work with Windows 8) so can now be found routinely buying up cheap second-hand ones on eBay. Re the stressful movements, I suppose that covers that point too. 

Tools of the trade, my QWihlY Keyboard.  The letters are worn out but I'm hoping my arms last a bit longer

Awkward positions, I again randomly sorted this a few years back too when I went and did Alexander Technique with the adorable Mark Claireaux because I was fed up with being short and thought that would help me have better posture so look taller. Yes, all is vanity. 

Being really lazy, I didn't do well with doing the exercises but I was very taken with Mark's desk chair – it was basically a really cool vintage stool. He explained that loads of people spend lots of money on ergonomic chairs and so on but it's how you sit not what you sit on that matters.  

I now sit properly (I hope) on just an old hard chair which suits my height (it's quite low so my legs don't dangle!) and I got a desk with a pull out lower bit for the keyboard to match the height issue.  I'm wondering if this also addresses the co-contraction and 'static muscular effort' thing too since I'm not holding my upper arms tense in order to 'reach' my desk?

So I'm feeling pretty smug, but it doesn't explain the horrendous aching of my arms after I didn't type yesterday.  I've tried Googling more specifically about this but all I came up with was a thing called 'delayed onset muscle soreness' but that seems to relate to something you do once then suffer the consequences a day or so later, like after doing an exercise session.  Surely if I type every day, this is not the case?

Maybe it's like when you get a cold when you go on holiday or how the kids get sick the minute school breaks up, our bodies say, 'Thank you for stopping,' and put their guards down and/or start recovering in an odd way? 

To avoid this in future, I'm going to just be nicer to my arms and hands so they don't rebel again in the future but can I avoid the ice baths?  I searched for hand and arm massage and that threw up the idea that someone else would be bovvered to do that for me. 

So adding in 'self' to the search box, I found an article which serendipitously started with: "We use our hands, wrists, and forearms non-stop throughout theday."  On my wave length, honey!  I skipped the bit about being a 'yogi' but I am going to go buy a tennis ball.  Can I offset that as a cost in my tax return as office equipment?

Monday tomorrow and lots to do (type) so I'm going to give my arms some TLC before bed.  But already they're feeling better (because I've typed this?!) and I've just carried youngest's not insubstantial bike down the steps into the back garden so at least they still work. I chopped the onion without pain and suffering and I'm raring to go after, despite the arm issue, what was a lovely work-free weekend.  

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