What happens if you Google “coworking space”?
You see people working hard.
I see lots of necks, backs, arms, wrist and hands that will need phyiscal therapy in the next decade.
My story of RSI
It only took a month to get my first problems. I started getting a tingling feeling in my wrist and hands. Then at night I’d wake up with phantom arms, like the blood flow had gone out and I couldn’t feel them anymore. That’s normal sometimes, but this would happen every week. The hypochondriac in me started to worry something was deeply wrong. But it was just RSI taking over my arm.
I met Darren in Bangkok who had previously had RSI, and gave me a wrist support. It was like one of those boxer’s wrist bands. That helped a little bit to at least make it able for me to work again (this was 2014 and my shit was blowing up so I couldn’t afford to stop working). It didn’t cure it though.
I tried tiger balm on my wrist which would reduce the pain. But again not cure it.
It didn’t stop there. Slowly it moved up from my wrist to my upper arm. I’d get shoulder pain. Then neck. It peaked when after a year or so, I got these sudden spasms in my lower back. Like giant mega cramp and painful as hell. My whole body just twitched and I’d be looking like a mime artist doing weird poses to try and stop the pain.
I was now applying tiger balm almost on my entire body to try and reduce the pain. Haha. This was getting insane.
I knew if this would continue, it’d make it impossible for me to work one day. I progressively started introducing things to my workflow to try and cure my RSI. It didn’t stop overnight, but recently I realized after 2 years, I don’t have RSI anymore.
So how do we fix this?
Don’t use your MacBook (or laptop’s) keyboard and trackpad
They’re evil. I think. I love the MacBook Pro’s design but it’s not ergonomic at all. The keyboard is risen (due to the depth of the device itself), which gives your arm (and shoulder) an unnatural posture. The trackpad’s physical click takes too much force for your thumb to press, which results in a weird unnatural hand posture if you click:
The screen is obviously always too low and your neck is always arched downwards (almost 45 degrees), this can restrict the nerves in your neck. Those restricted nerves? They can start giving signals of pain in your hand, wrist and arm.
Get a keyboard that’s as low as possible on the table and not curved. I use an Apple Keyboard that I’ve put folded paper under so that it’s flat and not curved:
Use a mouse instead of a trackpad. The industry standard mouse for developers and designers has been for a decade and still is the Logitech MX series. It keeps changing its name though, the current one is the MX Master. It has a curved shape that fits your hand naturally. Make sure it’s wireless. Why? Because you want to be able to position it in the most comfortable place for you.
Get a laptop stand. The industry standard is The Roost Stand (no I’m not being paid to say this, I just love them). Their new version is an adjustable height stand.
There’s a lot of bad stands being sold right now. The worst being the ones that make your hands curved upwards. This is REALLY bad and actually makes your problems worse! Your hands should be flat on the keyboard at all time.
The most important thing is that a laptop stand gets the top of your screen at the same height horizontally as your eyes. This seems outrageously high if you’re used to looking down on your laptop, but yes this is how it should be. This makes your neck perfectly straight.
This is challenging. Getting a good chair when you don’t work from home might be hard. But most chairs can be modified into being somewhat usable. Make sure when you sit your eyes are level with the top of your screen. If not, get a cushion or pillow from somewhere. Add enough cushion until you reach the right height.
Maybe even buy a small pillow yourself to bring with you in your backpack:
Check your arms
Your arms need to always be in a 90 degree angle. That means straight like a square. Even if you’re standing up, the desk or bar needs to give your arms that posture.
Don’t sit up right
Sitting straight USED to be adviced but it’s been debunked heavily. It’s not natural and puts strain on your lower back. You need to lean back slightly backwards. With your legs stretched out, and if you can put your feet on some rest you have there.
Pick ergonomic places to work from
This is a rather challenging one but in booking Airbnb’s I now specifically check or ask if there’s a good desk and chair to work from. I try to explore the area I’m in to see most coffee places and see which one have a good ergonomic desk and chair and those that have standing desks. A standing desk can literally be a coffee bar.
Only recently, I started lifting weights. I do bench press, military press and squat exercises. And also push ups, pull ups, and some running. I have no plans to be a body builder, haha, but I heard it’s good for longevity when you age. What I didn’t know was how it’d also improve the muscles in my hands, wrist and arms to get less inflamed from RSI. It improved it so that when I do have bad posture, I will not get problems as much.
Haha, this is obviously impossible for us. But I’ve set up a homebase in Amsterdam recently:
I thought why not and I got a pretty pricey EUR 400,- second-hand adjustable desk. And a second-hand Aeron Chair, also pricey around EUR 600,-. I’ve not had any problems here with RSI. But obviously hard to do if you want to travel.
There is a psychological component to RSI where the more you think about it, or the more you’re stressed, the more you get it. Which is funny because now that I’m writing this I actually start to get a little bit of RSI, haha!
Start now so you won’t fuck up your body in the future. We have a lot of work to do in spreading information about good posture, or we’ll all end up like this when we get older:
There’s a discussion on Hacker News about this post.
P.S. I'm on Twitter too if you'd like to follow more of my stories. And I wrote a book called MAKE about building startups without funding. See a list of my stories or contact me. To get an alert when I write a new blog post, you can subscribe below: