Dealing with Programmer’s RSI

For years now, I’ve been suffering from Programmer’s RSI and I’m not even a programmer! I’ve dealt with this in different ways and I’ve just came up with a little creation which makes things so much better.

So yes, I thought I should share!

Programmer's RSI fingers - buddy taping fingers
What I used to do to keep my fingers in check…

What is Programmer’s RSI?

RSI means Repetitive Strain Injury. It comes from a repetitive motion and causes damages to muscles, tendons or nerves. It creates pain & stiffness & even swelling of joints, if the repetitive motion isn’t stopped.

What is called programmer’s RSI is specific to well, programmers. The intensive use of regular keyboards is usually the cause, and apparently the placement of certain keys, essential to programming, is the main issue.

I haven’t found the exact medical term for this. I’m not a doctor!

You can try to google:

Small Finger Flexor Digitorum Tendinitis or Small Finger Extensor Digitorum Tendinitis.

Depending on the circumstances you can replace the Tendinitis by Tendinosis or Tendinopathy and sometimes Tenosynovitis.

Basically it hurts!!

How did I end up with Programmer’s RSI?

That’s a good question!!

It started when I rediscovered my love for photography and go worst and worst when I got Lightroom, Photoshop & Illustrator!

I spent hours and hours on my computer and its trackpad.

Surprisingly, I didn’t get the regular trackpad issue, which usually is linked to the extensive use of the index and middle fingers.

My issue is with my left pinky! (I’m left handed btw)

I call him my posh pinky! My left pinky keeps overextending, by itself, while my other fingers are working with the trackpad, like an English tea drinker who raises his pinky while holding his tea cup. This is actually not the proper way to drink tea by the way. Your pinky should hold the cup below, not stay extend in the air! We have all been mislead!

Sometimes I call it my lazy pinky, the one who refuses to work and keeps trying to escape the task ahead.

You see, the cause of my issue is different than what programmer’s are facing, but the result is the same: A stiff and painful pinky. A pain that travels to the wrist, up to the elbow and when it gets really bad to the shoulder.

Managing the issue

First thing I did, when it got really bad, was to seek medical advise! My osteopath did wonders and recommended I stretched regularly my shoulder and most importantly that I buddy taped my fingers, for a while at least, to give my pinky a rest.

Programmer's RSI fingers - buddy taping fingers
buddy taping

I did for sometimes and it worked, but the pain came back as soon as I worked for extended period of times on my trackpad.

So I learned to live with it and minimize it as much as possible:

  • I massaged my hand and wrist with arnica oil as soon as the stiffness would appear (#affiliated link).
  • I learned to pause, stretch and diversify my routine
  • I started exercising a lot and that helped incredibly
  • I learned how to press the pain point on my shoulder and press again!
  • I changed my sleeping position
  • And indeed I kept on buddy taping my pinky and ring finger

Now this buddy taping works for me, especially when I work on my trackpad because my little finger is not really required. However I realize this is not a viable option for a programmer or anyone who types a lot, with all their fingers I mean!

In fact, my typing has become ridiculous. My pinky is almost useless now, and I seriously need to retrain myself to type properly again. But buddy taping my fingers has been a game changer for me.

Buddy Taping my finger

When I started buddy taping my fingers, I used large medical tape like the one pictured above. It worked great and was confortable.

But tape is slightly annoying too. It’s annoying to remove and replace every time you go to the bathroom. After a while, I had tape residue on my fingers and it got kind of always dirty.

I also had one roll of tape which ended up really irritating my skin after just a few days.

Most importantly, I couldn’t switch from one task to the other, like drawing on Illustrator and typing to reply to an email. This is what lead to my pinky becoming useless when typing. Not good.

So I tried a more fashionable way to buddy tape my fingers with a double ring! This didn’t work despite the various models created. The rings hurt my skin from the pulling of my pinky which could still extend. My pinky is really annoying!!

My small and ring fingers are most comfortable when attached at the middle phalanges level and the ring was not doing that.

So I went back to the tape but I kept using rolls and rolls and it was bothering me.

Sewing a buddy taping devise!

My Singer machine came to the rescue when I realize I could sew a buddy taping devise!

It is so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.

It’s just a simple tiny sleeve, a cylinder. I folded the top and bottom to create little imperfect seems. Then I tested on my fingers to find the perfect circumference and close the sleeve. The length of my first sleeve was about one inch but I soon realized that it was much more confortable when folded.

Programmer's RSI - reusable buddy taping devise

On the next one I sew, since I knew I would fold it, I decrease slightly the diameter in the middle, by sewing inward a little bit. The fabric I used is soft and a little stretchy (this is important!) so the middle part needed to be tighter. The end parts have a straight stitch which does provide the required counter force to my pinky trying to escape!

That’s it really! Now I have 3 comfortable finger buddy taping devises! No more tape to buy and trash. No more skin irritation, no more glue residue to scrap. I can remove it easily when I want to type, put it back on when necessary, again and again… I can adjust them when necessary, change their position, even match them to what I’m wearing!

And obviously my new finger buddy taping are washable!! Aahhh! That is all good!

Programmer's RSI - reusable buddy taping devise

OK almost…

I recognize the problem is not solved, it is just sort of handled

Obviously I know the problem is not sorted. To completely solve the problem, I would need to set up a new work environment and that is not possible at the moment.

I also recognize that if you are a programmer reading these lines, you probably feel that it wouldn’t work for you. You can’t code with 2 fingers buddy taped, at least not for a long time. Sorry, it’s the best I could come up with!

I hope, at the very least, this will help you find your own creative solution to the problem you are facing.

This was not a mind-blowing sewing project but hey it probably is my most used creation nevertheless! Not sure I should rejoice or cry! 😉

Programmer's RSI fingers - sewing a reusable alternative buddy taping devise