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Left Hand Cramping/Poping


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Hey all.  So I'm relatively young, but I've noticed recently that my left hand is giving me more and more issues, and I suspect it is partially related to LabVIEW programming and I'm wondering if others are in my position, or if they had any suggestions.


Programming for me has my left hand on the home keys and my right on the mouse which I think is typical of most people.  I currently don't use auto-tool much so I have lots of tabbing going on.  When I tab I find I move my hand to the left and up a bit so my middle finger does the tabbing.  I think this works fine for me for the most part.


Where I think the issue is for me is the constant use of the CTRL key.  So I compulsively save (CTRL+S), I'm often switching between windows (CTRL+E) closing (CTRL+W) running (CTRL+R) various cut, copy, paste, undo, redo operations, moving windows from one monitor to the other (CTRL+Space for me) lots of quick drop (CTRL+D for me), various quick drop shortcuts.  I also use CTRL+T in Chrome a lot.  


This causes me to stretch my pinky, away from my index finger in an awkward manor.  Also most of the time I'm on a non-ergonomic keyboard without a wrist guard, so even if I have my elbows at my sides my hand needs to turn left at the wrist to get my pinky where I want, stretch fingers out, then force CTRL and the commanded key.  I've tried twisting the keyboard clockwise so I don't need to turn my wrist, but I still find it a strain to stretch fingers.


After a few hours I find my wrist has lots of painful pressure, and I can pop it by quickly moving it from a straight position to one curling left, which is a relief for a few minutes.  I've thought about buying some extreme split keyboards like this but I'm not certain it'll help because my issue seems to be constant CTRL usage.  I've also thought about getting a foot pedal for activating CTRL.  I have a 5 button mouse so I may try to map a button on it to CTRL and see if that helps.


Do others have the left hand strain?  Is it just me?  Any suggestions?

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I work very much the same way you do, but luckily no problems so far.

In my case the keyboard is rather far away. My entire forearm is on the table such that the elbow is at the edge of the table and the keyboard is turned right (about 20°) to make it easier for the left hand. For the pressure on your wrists a flat keyboard might help (with a large wrist rest tilting down). My own is a terra keyboard 5500 (pretty old but extremly well made).

Edited by LogMAN
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I also press Ctrl with my left pinkie a lot; I often do Ctrl+Shift+S to Save All in LabVIEW, and even Ctrl+Shift+Tab to navigate my web browser tabs.


I avoid stretching into awkward positions whenever possible; instead of leaving my hand in the home position and stretching my fingers out to the left, I move hand and elbow freely to reach the keys comfortably. For example, when I do Ctrl+Shift+Tab, my index finger and thumb can end up above the 'W' and 'Alt' keys respectively. Instead of simply rotating my left wrist counterclockwise, I also move my elbow away from the keyboard to reduce the amount of rotation needed in my wrist.


I agree with Gribo and recommend that you see a physiotherapist to assess your situation and come up with a treatment/rehab plan. They can also identify any sub-optimal movements you might be making with your wrist/hand/fingers, and teach you how to correct those.

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RSI and Carpal tunnel syndrom are serious issues, call your doctor/physiotherapist for a better advice. My solution was to switch hands (Got a left handed mouse) and take a 10 minutes break every two hours.

My doctor ended up suggesting I should remove a tendon when he was unsuccessful treating my LabVIEW-induced tennis elbow with drugs and massage a few years back....I tried all kinds of mouse replacements only to make things even worse.

The immediate solution it turned out was to stretch the hand upwards and downwards tens of times a day to get rid of the inflammation (thanks Google(!)). Since I switched to the Microsoft Arc mouse (which everyone else here hates) I'm not bothered with it much anymore though (if I feel anything I just do some stretching and I'm fine again).

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I know it makes me a slower coder but when coding in LabVIEW I always use autotool and if I want to switch it off I actually use the tools pallete, rather than tabbing. About the only thing I use on the keyboard is Ctrl-E, it is partly also the reason I do not use the quick-drop option.


I did have major problems with my mouse hand a few years ago and found that a left handed Evoluent mouse really worked for me. Plus much to my surprise as I am very left handed, I found I could use a Logitech roller mouse with my right hand for things like web browsing or general screen use.


So now I have two mice connected to my PC a left handed Evoluent one for LabVIEW programming or anything where real precision is needed and a roller ball on the right hand side for anything else, so I am switching which hand does what throughout the day.  As I said it does make my slower and less efficient, but no the overhand it allows my brain to keep up with what my hands do. 


EDIT.   I just noticed that even when doing LabVIEW I used both mice, I am using the roller-ball to moves FB or BD around my screen or from one screen to the other and automatically switch to my left hand when I start putting down wires. wow I had not realised I was doing that.

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Thank you for your suggestions and I am going to schedule a Dr. appointment to get checked out.  Since noticing this I've tried changing a few habits and I think it might help.  


I tried mapping my back and forward buttons on my mouse to CTRL but it was too hard to get used to, especially for things like CTRL dragging which now needs me to hold forward, then click and drag the left mouse button, a movement I've never done before.  Also I only applied the CTRL mapping when in LabVIEW which also made changing the habit harder since things like Forward+C is copy in LabVIEW but not explorer, there I actually wanted forward to go forward.


I changed my seat to sit higher, so my hands aren't pointed up, I lifted the front of my keyboard slightly, (again so hands are slightly down) and added some padding by resting my wrist on a some foam leather material I had.  Starting this morning I've mapped my Caps Lock key to CTRL in all of the OS (because who uses that anyway) and I'll try using that to see if there is less stretching.  I've tried stretching throughout the day but am probably doing it wrong, I'll google a bit.  But none of these changes are replacements for a professionals' opinion.


Oh and left handed mouse? Might as well ask me to swap brake and gas petals on only one of my cars.

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I actually got a couple of wrist wraps that had a pad built in.  These helped a little bit.  In the end, I found that the desks that I was using (mostly at a customer site) was the main issue.  Been working from the office a lot more (which have musch better desks) and my wrists have not bothered me hardly at all for almost 2 years now.  I haven't even used the wraps.

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I also went through those issues a few years ago when I was doing more programming and less management. Both wrists were getting pretty bad and my back was hurting also. Swapping mouse to the left side definitely helped, despite being very difficult at first but you can do it just like you can learn to drive on the other side of the road after 20 years of driving if you need to.


For a while, I used LVSpeak for a while which I found to work fairly well to replace many other commands and quick drop which reduced the movement of both hands. I did get used to Auto-tool to further reduce frequent repetitive keyboard actions.


I had a "ah-ah" moment when I switched offices when things were still bad with my body. Doing the exact same job but overnight, at a different desk and on a different chair, the pain slowly disappeared. Minor adjustments in you desk can make a huge difference and despite the professional advice being a great idea, they won't guide you through this slow and iterative process.


Have you tried a stand up desk? It changes your working position when you transition from sitting to standing and it helps your body a lot. Finally, regular breaks are super useful, though very hard to implement. An addiction like smoking can help you with the regular break every hour though  :lightbulb: ... Good luck!

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  • 1 month later...

Okay a quick update.  I tried some behavior changes to make my life easier.  I did get one of those Kinesis keyboards I linked to earlier (used cause who whats to pay that much), and I got the adapter that lifts the center of the keyboard and has the wrist guard.  This is a bit difficult to get used to but I like it.  I also bought an industrial foot pedal like this one, wired it to a Teensy LC (cause I had one already) and using the internal pull up I have it activate the CTRL key when pressed so I don't need to stretch my pinky finger.  This change is harder to get used to because I need to have my foot in a resting position but ready to press, and then force myself to use that instead of my hand.  It's possible and I use it for about 50% of my CTRL presses.


I also went to the doctor and they said I have tendinitis which is a catch all term, and the specific injury might have a better classification.  I'm now going to physical therapy for a month or so for some hand and wrist treatments.  I'm also doing some hand stretches, and am doing better.


As for the desk, I'm sorta in a lab environment without much extra space.  The desk is a solid one that doesn't adjust, and probably a bit too high.  I don't think changing it would be easy.

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Am I right in thinking you are a full fingered typist? i.e. you type with all fingers like a secretary with hand position as static as possible? To activate, say CTRL+R you would then twist your hand and separate the pinky?


I was looking at how I type. I'm kind of a 3 fingered (neanderthal :D ) typist (index, middle and thumb for space bar). This means that when I operate the control key I move my whole hand and my pinky is bent downwards/inwards but parallel to the others. So my pivot point is the elbow controlled by the biceps and shoulders rather than the wrist.


I wonder if it would benefit you to just swap the ALT and CTRL keys to bring it closer to your hand position?

Edited by ShaunR
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I was looking at how I type. I'm kind of a 3 fingered (neanderthal :D ) typist (index, middle and thumb for space bar). 

Filthy Casual.


But seriously yes I type with my hands on the home keys (stupid Mavis Beacon made sure of that).  Swapping too many keys can be dangerous when I go to use literally any other keyboard in the world.  The other issue is changing my brain to use keys differently.  CTRL has always been that very lower left key, I can feel around to find the edge and know which it is.  Changing CTRL and ALT sounds dangerous.  As I mentioned I already replaced Caps Lock with CTRL because I just don't use that key.

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Filthy Casual.


But seriously yes I type with my hands on the home keys (stupid Mavis Beacon made sure of that).  Swapping too many keys can be dangerous when I go to use literally any other keyboard in the world.  The other issue is changing my brain to use keys differently.  CTRL has always been that very lower left key, I can feel around to find the edge and know which it is.  Changing CTRL and ALT sounds dangerous.  As I mentioned I already replaced Caps Lock with CTRL because I just don't use that key.


Point and click FTW. Typing is so 1980s :P


Seeing as you went for a Rube Golberg footswitch solution :D, maybe it would be fun to try a head tracking one? There's some home-made ones around as well as off-the shelf that are used for gaming. You only need 3 LEDs and a webcam. There is something very appealing about the thought of using a nod as "Return" and a head-shake for "Escape". You could just look up slightly to put the caps lock on, maybe?

Edited by ShaunR
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