Five Ways to Keep Your Hands Healthy

(and a few things to avoid…)

As designers, our hands are our livelihood, and we need to do everything we can to keep them in good condition. When my mother’s arthritis started to become a problem for her, I started doing some research on hand health which I later incorporated into a basic computer class I taught. These tips will keep your hands and fingers working well.

1) Keep Nails Neatly Trimmed

Women learn early that special adjustments have to be made when typing with long nails. Typically women are much better at nail care, so we men can take a few lessons here.

Keep nails trimmed neatly, remembering to follow the contour of the finger, but not cutting too closely. When you’re done, you should have no edges or corners, and no hangnails or slivers. One trick is to use a nail clipper that’s larger like a toenail clipper, and make lots of little cuts instead of one large one. This keeps the nail rounded, and in good shape. If you’re not handy at keeping the nails trimmed properly, do yourself a favor and get a manicure – even just getting a manicure once will show you what your nails should look like when clipped correctly. Afterward you’ll have at least a good idea what you’re aiming for when you do it yourself.

2) Soak – (but not in palmolive, Madge)

If you find your hands are cramping, tired and achy after a long day of Photoshopping (or Illustratoring, which is when it happens with me), soak ’em. Get a wide bowl, put a few drops of plain hand creme – even hair conditioner will do – and fill with warm-to-almost-hot water. Put your paws in and let ’em soak for 10-20 minutes or until the water cools off. The hot water will relax the tissues, and the hand creme/conditioner will keep your skin and nail beds more pliable. Bonus!

Soap, by the way, isn’t that great for your skin, despite what Madge might say. It tends to dry out the tissues in the long run, so using hand creme or conditioner works better.

3) Get (and use) a Wrist Rest

It may not seem like this deals with hand health, but keeping the wrists padded while you type also keeps the blood flowing freely to the hands and fingers. The main benefit here obviously is to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome, but keeping the blood circulating is also important for the nerve endings in your fingers.

4) Elevate the Keyboard (but not how you’d think…)

The natural state of the hand is to be open with fingers slightly curved toward the palm. Let your arms relax at your side, and observe how the hands look in a mirror. This curve should be how you type, play piano (piano teachers tell students to imagine that you’re holding an orange in their hands when they strike the keys). Since this is NOT how most people do those things, though, elevating the wrist will assist in proper positioning.

For this you may want to buy a second, cheap wrist rest made of a firm material (not the gel kind). First, if you have the little legs open on your keyboard, close them. Then take your second wrist rest, and put the spacebar edge of your keyboard on top of it. When everything’s in position, you should feel your wrists and hands relax more.

5) Exercise Your Grip Strength

Sports medicine tells us that strong musculature helps keep everything in place and working optimally. Apply that to wrists and hands by adding some grip exercises to your regimen – nothing excessive, but those nutcrackery grippy things are cheap and simple. You could even buy a Nerf ball or something similar, and give it a few dozen squeezes throughout the day. These also help with forearm strength, too, but please stop when you get to the mouse-crushing stage.

Things to Avoid

Plasitc Grocery Store Bags – we tend to overload them, then loop them over our hands in twos and threes, concentrating all that weight on a narrow plastic handle. If you have to carry them any distance, remember that you could be cutting off the circulation (and feeling!) to your hands and fingers. Plus it’s more environmentally sound to use paper and recycle, so bonus 2!

Smoking – an obvious one, but smoking also reduces circulation in the hands and feet. If you do smoke, try to keep your hands as warm as possible when working on a computer; fingerless gloves in the winter may look odd, but they work.

Keyboard Pounding – if you type like you’re trying desperately to push the keys through the underside of the keyboard, take a touch typing/keyboarding class. Keep reminding yourself that you just barely have to make contact when you press down. My father has worn out four keyboards this way, and it wasn’t until we got him a jelly board that he stopped crushtyping.

Excessively Heavy Jewelry (rings, watches and bangles) – Anything that weighs your hands down (rings) or comes between you and the wrist rest (watches, bangles) can potentially cause problems in the long run. If you have to, remove jewelry when you work, and put it on when you quit. In this case, comfort wins over fashion.

Remember that your hands enable you to ply your trade, so keep them in good shape!

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