Ergonomics for Developers

Tuesday, 11 August 2020 - 3 minutes to read

...or, how I got rid of pain and kept hacking for another decade

Sitting in front of a computer and working until the wee hours of the morning is nothing unheard of for developers, and we've all gotten used to the physical stresses of it - you probably wouldn't be a developer otherwise :)

However, there are few recommendations that should be noted to prevent injury to hands, arms and shoulders that are easy to use and that can help fix physical problems before or after they occur.

  • Ergonomic workplace tools may be useful, although the only thing I have found to work well is a simple armrest that attaches to the desk and makes my arms rest on the desk while typing and moving the mouse.
  • Try learning to use the mouse with your other hand. It will take a few days to get the hang of it, but being able to switch the mouse over to the other side may relieve a lot of stress on your arm. Don't bother switching the mouse buttons. Don't do graphical work with your other hand, it doesn't work.
  • Get a screensaver that makes you take breaks every hour or so. Get one you cannot easily defeat, you'll learn to hate it.

I was told by a doctor that what happens in your hands and arms when you do these constant micro-movements is that acid (?) builds up in your muscles and never gets a chance to be flushed out, and causes problems. Physical exercise is therefore important, and if you're like me, you hate physical exercise - but there are a few things you can do.

  • When you take breaks (every hour, unless you defeated your screensaver) stretch your arms upward. Extend your wrists fully (in a 90 degree angle) to make them work out. This doesn't really help a lot, but it's good for you and better than nothing. While keeping your arms and wrists fully stretched, lower them slowly to the floor (just like the guy with the hand signals telling the airplane when to stop at the gate, but in reverse).
  • Using your thumb, push against the pinkie finger and move the thumb all the way up past the index finger, like you're kneading some putty in your hand. Push hard, and do this repeatedly with both hands. This will activate all your muscles in your hands and fingers and make them work hard, flushing that acid out.
  • Find a similar exercise for your arms. I have found that doing 10-15 push ups against a table, bed or something else elevated helps tremendously with aching arms. No, I don't let anyone see me doing it. Doing push ups directly on the floor is probably also good, but I hurt my back last time I tried.
  • Let your arms hang for a little while and let the blood flow wash all the byproducts away.

I developed a pain in my wrists ten years ago that was so bad that I couldn't lift a coffee pot. Using the above methods, I have successfully continued working and hacking with no problems since then, and the only time it comes back is when I ignore my screen saver.

Other notes:

  • If your legs are hurting, it could be because you keep your laptop on your lap and it's actually burning you slowly.
  • If you regularly go to the gym, forget all I said above. You win.

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