Using Keyboard Shortcuts to Prevent Repetitive Strain Injury

Week Four Lesson of the Preventative Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Program

Young woman at home working on laptop
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With the increased use of computers both at work and at home, we are all at higher risk of concerns like repetitive strain injury (RSI), also sometimes known as repetitive stress injury, and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). While repetitive strain injuries come in many forms, most of the research has focused on manual work and office work (with the constant use of modern devices).

Though most of us cannot control how much time we spend on a computer for work, we can control how we use it.

In this final weekly lesson of our 4-week Prevent RSI Program, you will learn how to use keyboard shortcuts and other helpful tools to help you use your mouse less. Give the skills outlined below a try for one week and consider it a week-long experiment.

What You’ll Do

It’s not just your computer keyboard that can make your hands and wrists sore and painful; the mouse is also a culprit. Most people experience wrist pain and other repetitive stress injury symptoms in their “mouse hands.” This is because the hand directing the mouse never rests and is constantly performing very small, fine muscle movements. This week, you’ll learn alternatives to using the mouse with the same hand all the time.

How It Works

The mouse puts many people’s hands and wrists “over the edge.” The constant use of the mouse, with its fine motions, can really damage your wrist. You’ll learn alternatives to using the mouse that are better for your hands and wrists.

These new moves may take a few days to feel “normal,” but they have actually been shown to be much faster and easier to use than the mouse once people get used to them. In addition to learning keyboard shortcuts to cut down on your mouse usage, you'll learn how to use the mouse correctly to help prevent RSI.

The Steps: Shortcuts, Resting, and Switching it Up

  1. Keyboard Shortcuts: Within most programs, just about anything can be done with keyboard commands. This is great news. When you get proficient at them, using keyboards commands is faster than breaking your flow and reaching for the mouse. To find a list of keyboard commands for the programs you use the most, simple search “[program name] keyboard shortcut” (changing [program name] to the program you are using) into your favorite search engine.
  2. Don’t Rest Your Wrist: Don’t drive your mouse with your wrist resting on the desk or table. Be sure that your wrists float above the table, just like when you are typing. A wrist rest will help you to remember that.
  3. Switch Hands: This may be a challenge at first, but switch your mouse to the other hand. After about an hour or two, your non-dominant hand will get good at using the mouse. This is actually a very good brain exercise as well, but most importantly, it will give your other hand time to rest. Switch every day; use your left hand in the mornings and your right in the afternoon or vice versa.

Your Prevent RSI Commitment This Week: I will take steps to use the mouse less, not rest my wrists and switch “mouse hands” this week.

Tips to Help You Along

  • Expect it to take some time before you get used to the keyboard shortcuts. Have a printout of the commands next to your computer until you memorize them.
  • Be careful with contorting your hands while using keyboard shortcuts. Remember to use both hands for any key combination that is awkward.
  • Be very certain that you are not resting your wrist on the table or desk while using the mouse. You want to use big, wide motions for controlling the mouse, rather than tiny, fine ones.

The Complete Program

Here is the whole Prevent RSI program. Give each new lesson or skill a solid one-week try, and then come back and do the next one.