Repetitive Stress Injury. RSI. Three little letters.

Tips for Writers: How to avoid repetitive stress injury such as carpal tunnel by setting up an ergonomic workspace

But for authors and freelancers like us, who make their living on a keyboard, that’s like a quarterback blowing out his knee. Only most of us don’t have a multimillion-dollar paycheck that allows us to build up some cush.

And let’s get real—there are lots of nebulous what-ifs out there that give us solopreneurs chills. We don’t get sick pay, we don’t get insurance (unless it’s provided via our spouse or a secondary job), no retirement… I could go on. These are all things that will keep you up at night. Or they do me. But Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) is a frequent star in my nightmares / anxiety freak-outs.

The signs of repetitive stress injury…

Repetitive Stress Injury from Mouse

Years and years ago, I did website design, both freelance and for a venture capital web design firm. That was back during the dot-com bubble… before it popped. I have horror stories of the implosion. But I digress—I started having stress / pain / tension in my wrists. I switched to a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, and that solved that issue almost immediately. The next problem to plague me—hand and joint issues a few years back. My lupus doesn’t help with that since it stiffens my joints up, but it was pretty clear from the way my hand was cramping that it had to do with the fact that most mice are designed for children or people with teeny-tiny hands. Or so it seemed. Because I had to contort my hand into what felt like a witch’s claw, kinda like when the evil Stepmother gives Snow White the apple. Or maybe my hand resembled a zombie claw. But hands are not supposed to look like claws. So I got an Evoluent vertical mouse, and that fixed my hand pain within days.  Fast-forward to today. My hands are acting up again. Worse, my forearms tingle, especially when I’m folding them at the elbow. Like… imagine you’re in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, and you lean forward and bring your hands to your face to examine a zit. Or put on makeup. Or whatever, but there you are, minding your own business… and your arms and hands start to go numb. Within seconds. So I started panicking. Is it carpal tunnel? Cubital tunnel? De Quervain Syndrome? Voodoo curse? I figured Google would tell me that I’d start glowing in the dark and sprout a third eye. But I girded my loins and started looking at symptoms and then ergonomic mice and keyboards.

Computer Mouse

So the first thing of note that I found out is that vertical mice… are actually not all that ergonomic. Sure, they’re better than the old-style mice, but they still cause stress to your hands because they keep your hand in a pinching position. Not good. And also, the “handshake position” is not the normal, neutral position (contrary to what they’ve been telling us for years now). No, if you stick your arms out in front of you, zombie-style—we’re back at zombies, and it’s not even October—they’ll be straight out with a slight outward angle. Slight being ten degrees maybe. Not the ninety-degree handshake.   So over to Amazon I went, and I got a Hippus Handshoe mouse. It looks a bit like a cross between a manta ray and a stealth bomber, but it is AMAZINGLY more comfortable than the mice of old. Of note: I originally got a medium, which was a bit too small despite the fact that I measured my hand before ordering. And… my thumb rings interfered with the mouse and being able to relax my hand on it. But once I exchanged it for a large, it was like magic. If you’re interested in some of the ergonomic research, you can check out the Hippus website.

Ergonomic mouse and keyboard setup


So… the next thing to get replaced… because I was still panicking… was my keyboard. I ended up going with the Freestyle Pro. It’s got some nice features, allows for a customizable split over my old fixed-split MS4000, and is programmable. And it’s a mechanical keyboard. I’ve never had one, but I gotta tell you that I’m loving the clickety-clacking. 🙂 I also got the tenting accessory to allow for outward angling. I learned with my MS board that the tenting is ESSENTIAL. At least for me. I’ve had this bad boy for a couple of years now. Not gonna lie—it took some getting used to. If you want to see how it works for you, it has a two-month guarantee while you try it out. In fairness, changing up my keyboard and mouse at the same time was probably not the best way to go about things, but like I said, I was panicking. 😨

Standing Desk

Standing desk with dual monitors

I got a standing desk from Autonomous a while back. Do I stand at all? Hell no. I also don’t use the treadmill in the living room. *sigh* But one nice thing about it is you can set your desk at the perfect height FOR YOU. And I have one of their chairs. It’s lasted for years—they make good stuff.


But what I  also got, and I made a mistake doing so, was  a dual monitor arm. Don’t do that if you have two monitors. Get TWO separate arms, and get the kind with the gas springs. And I’ll tell you why. Firstly, if you get one arm, your monitors cannot be positioned independently of one another. You can only move monitor B out as far as monitor A will let you, and vice versa. Secondly, if you don’t get the gas-spring kind, moving the monitor (BOTH OF THEM) will require you to find the stupid Allen wrench that came with it, crawl under your desk, wrestle TWO monitors up or down, and it still won’t be in the right place. No bueno.  Here’s what I ended up going with—two Huanuo single arm monitor stands. Best decision I’ve made regarding my desk setup. Adjustments are a cinch and they were relatively inexpensive and easy to put together.

If you’re wondering why on earth you want adjustable monitor arms—having your monitor at the wrong height can cause yet more repetitive stress injuries. It can put stress on your neck and can actually pinch a nerve that goes down your arm. No fun. But that’s why it’s important to make sure you optimize more than just your keyboard and mouse.

Ergonomic Assistant

My tortoiseshell cat, Gypsy, lounging on my desk.

Finally, don’t overlook the value of getting some sort of compression support or wrist brace. I like these copper-lined ones, but I’m sure there’s a bunch of great options on Amazon. You might also want elbow padding (putting your weight on your elbow constantly is what can trigger the cubital tunnel thing I mentioned earlier). And, most importantly, make sure you have an ergonomic office assistant. Taking a break from work periodically is super important, and only an ergonomic kitty (or puppy) belly will do! You can’t find these on Amazon, but I’m pretty sure your local shelter or rescue group would love to help you. 🙂 🐾

Okay—I feel like this has turned into a small how-to book. Sorry about that! Do you have Repetitive Stress Injury issues? Are you worried about it? Do you have tips and tricks or favorite products / strategies?

Tell me about them down in the comments—I’d love to find some new tools to deal with the issue. On that note—have a great week. Drink a cup of tea for me. ☕ 🙂

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