The Real Pain Of Software Development [part 1]

code, personal, tech 0 comments suggest edit

UPDATE: I finally followed up with part 2, only 8 years later.

Typist In PainWhen you ask the average programmer what problems plague the practice of building software, you’ll probably hear responses such as:

The impedance mismatch between relational databases and object oriented code.

The difficulty of writing secure code.

Managing complexity and requirement changes..

Certainly, these are all worthy problems to tackle, but the problem that comes to my mind is how much pain I’m in when I write code and how few people really understand this. I hope to write a series of articles about typing pain and what to do about it based on my experience and research.

If you sit in front of the computer 8 or more hours a day, you’ve probably experienced pain at one point or another in your hands, wrists, shoulders, and/or back. Typically, if you’re like me, you’ll ignore it at first, maybe blame yourself for being weak, try hitting the gym more. However, at one point or another, you have to deal with it because it gets too painful to ignore. Friends and coworkers may not understand, but if you dig around, you’re almost guaranteed to find one or more coworkers who are silently dealing with this type of injury.

And yes, I do mean injury. Everybody seems to want to call it Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), but CTS is only one small type of injury within a family of injuries often grouped under the term Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI). RSI ailments include tendinitis, neuritis, CTS, etc…

The real difficulty of these types of injuries is that they are a relative newcomer in the annals of medicine and are thus quite misunderstood. From outward appearances, you’re sitting on your ass all day, how can you get injured? Well let me give you some stats.

At the end of an average eight-hour workday, the fingers have walked 16 miles over the keys and have expended energy equal to the lifting of 1 1/4 tons. - DataHand

This rapid increase in RSIs coincides with the increase of personal computer use. There are now an estimated 70 million PCs in the USA. Dr. Pascarelli estimates that RSIs now cost companies $20 billion a year. -

Hopefully the first quote highlights just how much work we make our little fingers do in a day, and the second quote appeals to your (and your employer’s) pocketbook. Much of these costs can be easily reduced dramatically by taking a proactive and preventive approach to RSI. For the company, that means saving a lot of money by not taking a short-sighted approach. Make sure your employees have the right equipment and an ergonomic evaluation. For you the individual, that means making sure you work in an ergonomic fashion and get help at the first sign of pain.

I will talk a bit about my experience in upcoming postings. I continue to struggle with pain, but I currently have Workman’s Comp which pays for my treatments and hooked me up with an ergonomic chair.

Some references of note:

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18 responses

  1. Avatar for Haacked's Boss
    Haacked's Boss June 10th, 2004

    This makes me nervous - I feel a fraudulent Worker's Comp claim coming on.

  2. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked June 10th, 2004

    Ha. very funny. I already have an open claim. So there's no need to feel nervous.

  3. Avatar for Niels Hansen
    Niels Hansen June 10th, 2004

    I was just thinking the same thing. I hope your boss is not reading this! This is worse than saying that you have a drug problem! :)

  4. Avatar for Josh Christie
    Josh Christie June 10th, 2004

    I had terribly painful tendonitis in my wrists and hands from using the computer a few years ago. I went to see a doctor who prescribed a lot of ibuprofen and I also saw a physical therapist who tried all sorts of stuff. Neither of them were able to make much of a difference in my condition. Then I tried simply icing my wrists and hands for about 10-15 minutes each night in bed and, after several weeks, I was 100% cured. I've had some pain start come back several times since then, but a couple nights of icing has fixed it every time.

    Switching to a thumb-operated trackball (Logitech) instead of a mouse helped somewhat, too.

    Good luck getting better, I know how frustrating RSI can be.

  5. Avatar for Buck Hicks
    Buck Hicks June 10th, 2004

    Thanks for the tip Josh. I am going to try that out.

  6. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked June 10th, 2004

    Niels, I do have a drug problem. This is my attempt to draw attention away from it.


  7. Avatar for Doctor Who and
    Doctor Who and November 4th, 2004

    This is instructions on how to make a DIY foot mouse. It's very high quality. I would advise to use your hands only when it is very necessary, to only strained them all at them ache at all if you want to aggravate their fragility, and use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to browse web pages and right like I am now and a foot mouse to do all easy work.

  8. Avatar for Coding Horror
    Coding Horror June 7th, 2006

    Software developers, like pianists, rely on their hands to practice their craft. I've used a keyboard and mouse obsessively since my early teens. Fortunately, I have never had any problems with hand or wrist pain-- or the dreaded Repetitive...

  9. Avatar for Dan
    Dan June 12th, 2006

    RSI from typing blows. It's ruined my programming career, I got it from a crappy desk that was too high and rubbed my arms all the time, now my right wrist has been hurting for almost 9 months. Ibuprofen really doesn't do anything, but massages and ice are amazing, I just started that recently and I've seen a lot of improvement, not cured yet, but hopefully. Let this be a lesson to every programmer who codes too hard.

  10. Avatar for Kola
    Kola September 12th, 2006

    I also suffer from RSI - I have wondered if anyone had tried a tablet PC and found that to be of any use?
    I recieved a few suggestions on my blog:
    I've also had success with using Dragon Naturally speaking voice recognition software for writing reports/specs.

  11. Avatar for you've been HAACKED
    you've been HAACKED June 4th, 2007

    Dvorak, Keyboard Layout of Champions

  12. Avatar for Community Blogs
    Community Blogs June 5th, 2007

    One thing that never gets old is when someone visits me and asks to check some email on my computer.

  13. Avatar for Roger
    Roger July 29th, 2007

    Stumbled on this blog as I i was getting to know my tablet PC. I'm as developer with RSI and I'm going to try not to type at all for a few days. Not Sure programming & shell scripting work well longhand, but we'll see. Good luck to all.

  14. Avatar for Coding Horror
    Coding Horror August 26th, 2007

    I spend almost every waking moment in front of a computer. I'm what you might call an indoor enthusiast. I've been lucky because I haven't experienced any kind of computer-related injury due to my prolonged use of computers, but...

  15. Avatar for Coding Horror by Jeff Atwood
    Coding Horror by Jeff Atwood August 26th, 2007

    I spend almost every waking moment in front of a computer. I'm what you might call an indoor enthusiast

  16. Avatar for Programming
    Programming August 28th, 2007

    I spend almost every waking moment in front of a computer. I'm what you might call an indoor enthusiast

  17. Avatar for Sean Chambers
    Sean Chambers December 29th, 2007

    Over the last two weeks I have been having bad symptoms of RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome . Specifically

  18. Avatar for April 17th, 2012

    1st, at 42.5 my spine is S-ish and my torso rotated, both towards the mouse. It was so bad that one of my ribs no longer properly joined to the spinal column which caused sometimes intense pain at *random* points along the rib. Started sitting on an exercise ball and the pain was gone in two days. Unless you've got Herman Miller money, get a ball.
    2nd, my fingers were feeling it due to mushy keyboards. Got a Leopold 10keyless with Cherry Browns and its *super*. Every cm your arm has to travel towards the mouse is that much more strain on the shoulder, yo!
    3rd, get yourself some mouse buttons. Microsoft Intellimouse 4.0 with 3 programmable buttons:
    big thumb : double click;
    lil thumb : back
    wheel but : forward
    4th, master AutoHotkey; I've only begun, but CTL-ALT-F12 has been resizing and replacing all manner of console windows and now CTL-v actually pastes to console windows (cmd.exe, fsi.exe, ...)
    Unfortunately, with Windows, there's approximately 5K more steps to ergo-heaven. I'll keep all y'all posted if I solve it :-)
    Lasting peace and happiness for *ALL* human beings!
    Robert W. McCall