People who work office jobs with a lot of typing at a computer can do a lot to keep their hands limber and pain-free. You wouldn’t run a marathon without warming up first, would you?
Most of us have probably heard of carpal tunnel syndrome. Years ago, the then-new medical condition made national headlines when mainstream science figured out that repetitive hand and wrist movements can indeed cause muscular strain and nerve damage, just as afflicted workers claimed.
Someone actually figured out how many keystrokes an office worker types in a day. A programmer named Xah Lee reckoned that if he typed continuously he would be finished in under 30 minutes. He then presented this computation where ‘char’ is geek-speak for ‘keyboard character:’
“Let’s assume a data-entry clerk sustains at only 50 words per minute (wpm) in a normal workday. 50 wpm is 250 strokes per min or 15k per hour. Suppose she works 8 hours a day, and assume just 3 hours actually typing (not counting meeting, lunch, phone, errands, interruptions.). 15k × 3 = 45k chars per day.”
Therefore, the low estimate for a data-entry clerk is 45,000 characters a day.
Barbara Blackburn is one of the world’s fastest typist. She “can maintain 150 wpm for 50 min (37,500 keystrokes) and attains a speed of 170 wpm using the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard (DSK) system. Her top speed was recorded at 212 wpm.” Wow! I’m getting tired just thinking about that rollicking speed.
In 2009, a group of researchers looked at how much finger flexor tendon force it takes to tap on a key switch. They found out that “tendon tension during a keystroke continued to increase throughout the impact” beyond the initial strong fingertip force and that “following the maximum keycap force, tendon tension during a keystroke decreased more slowly than fingertip force, remaining elevated approximately twice as long as the fingertip force.”
These geeks – I mean, scientists – pegged the mean force required for a keystroke is about 12.9N (newtons). Named for Sir Isaac Newton, one newton is the force needed to accelerate one kilogram (2.2 lb) of mass at the rate of one meter (1.09 yard) per second per second in the direction of the applied force. The math formula is: 1 N = 1kg m/s2.
The bottom line here is that 12.9N equals 2.9lbf (pounds-force). A pound-force is about equal to the gravitational force applied on a mass of one pound on the surface of Earth.
Don’t worry, there won’t be a test. The point of all of this discussion is that forces are working constantly to fatigue dexterous digits so it’s very important to bend and stretch your fingers, hands, and wrists throughout the day – especially if you rely on your hands for your livelihood and well-being, as many of us do.
Try the following exercises to prevent aches, pains, and stiffness in your fingers, hands, and wrists:
Stretch the muscles in your fingers before, during or after writing or typing:
Extend your arms and fingers straight out in front of your chest, palms down, reaching toward the opposite wall.
Bend backward and upward only your fingers, without moving your knuckles and wrists, until they face your body and then straighten them out.
Continue tensing and stretching the finger muscles without making fists. Either count repetitions or continue for a preset amount of time (10 seconds or more).
Wrist muscles and bones become stressed and tense from writing due to the force of gravity and resting on a hard tabletop. Ease strain by doing wrist circles at your desk or while standing:
Extend your arms straight out with your palms facing down.
Make a fist with your fingers wrapped around your thumb.
Rotate your wrists clockwise and then counter-clockwise six times in each direction. (Six is a recommendation only. You can do as many as you like as often as you want throughout the day.)
Spread and lengthen the joints from your fingers down to the palm of your hands with this exercise:
Place both hands on a flat surface such as a desk, table or wall.
Spread your fingers slightly apart and move your fingers, one at a time, toward your thumbs without moving the other fingers.
Reverse the process and walk your index, middle, ring and pinky fingers away from your thumb.
Repeat two or three times.
Shoulder to Finger Roll
Soothe and stretch your arms from your fingers up to your shoulders by indulging in this seated technique:
Sit upright on the floor and extend your legs straight out in front of you.
Place the palms of your hands on the floor next to your hips and flatten your fingers so they are pointing outward.
Tilt your body weight to the left and roll support for your body weight from the palm of your hand to your fingertips.
Shift your body weight to the right, rolling support for your body weight from your palm to your fingertips.
Repeat this process 10 to 15 times.
You can also use one hand to massage the fingers, palm, and wrist of the other during mini-breaks or a droning conference call. Let your imagination be your guide as you bend and flex the manual and digital parts of your body to keep them in tip-top shape.