I was working only part-time over the summer, and had a lot more time for reading than I usually do. I found, to my dismay, that about halfway through July, I started getting wrist issues: pain when I typed for long periods, numbness and tingling at night and other troublesome symptoms. What was the culprit, and how did I begin solving the problem? My conclusions surprised me!
1) Identifying the Culprit
I had found that, during the school year, I barely used my Kindle at all. I had the iPad with me at school so I would read during short breaks. And then at night, I would read for an hour or so on the iPod Touch in bed. So I sold my Kindle 4 and figured I would just read on the iPad from now on.
Then I started getting symptoms of an RSI (repetitive stress injury) and I panicked. The iPad must have been the problem because it’s so heavy, I figured. So my quest began for ultimate lightness. I bought myself a Kindle Touch and for a few days, enjoyed it immensely. Then I learned that my partner’s Kobo Touch was a few grams lighter and I started obsessing about those grams …
2) Reality Check: Was weight really the issue?
When I started drawing up a table to compare the weights of various readers, I had a reality check. None of these readers—even my somewhat chunky Kindle Touch—weighs more than a paper book does. So, why did people never deal with RSIs back in the paper days? Why would my lighter-than-paperback Kindle Touch be an issue if I could read a paper novel without any problems?
3) What I Concluded
I finally realized that there was an ergonomic issue going on here that wasn’t about weight at all. It had to do with my proclivity for using my devices naked. I had been so paranoid about how much they weighed that I was reluctant to add the weight of a case to them while in use. I relied on sleeves to protect them while carrying them, but when in use, I read them unfettered.
This created a few ergonomic issues. Firstly, a Kindle is one page-size and a book is a two-page spread. What I was realizing was that for me it was the lack of this extra width that was the issue. In order to both hold the Kindle and turn the page, I had to hold my hands at an angle that torqued my wrists uncomfortably. When I tried the Kindle again with a case that added a couple extra inches to the side, I could hold it without having to angle my wrists and just swipe my thumb over to turn the pages.
The cases also added a cushy surface to the edges on which to rest my hands; the difference of having those hard plastic corners pressing into my palms versus having that soft edge of fabric was significant.
I finally found that because the bare devices didn’t have the same grippiness as the ones I’ve had in cases, it would at times slip in my hands, so I was constantly adjusting my grasp on it. This too put unecessary strain on my wrists and fingers. The book-style case really did make it more comfortable to read on my Kindle Touch.
4) My Ergonomic Solution
I’ve implemented a few changes to my ergonomic situation that have at last begun to resolve the issue. This week, I finally slept through the night again without being woken up by numb fingers! Here’s what I changed:
Typing: I have an iPad keyboard case that makes typing much more comfortable for me because it provides a lower surface than my Macbook, and because it has an indentation at the bottom where your hands can rest. So, I do almost all of my typing-based work on the iPad now, and save the Macbook for book and music management, video work, downloading and other higher-end tasks.
Reading Magazines: I still read those on the iPad, but I make sure it’s resting on my knees, or propped up in a stand or on a table. I try not to hold it in my hands unsupported for long periods.
Books: I read on the Kindle Touch, and am experimenting with different cases. I do think I might want something light and tiny down the road, but I’m going to wait and see how I do now that I’m using a case with it.
It never had occured to me that this was an ergonomic issue and not simply about the weight of the devices until I started really paying attention to what my hands were doing while I was at work and play. Now that I’m being more careful, I’m finding the problem improving quite quickly.
Joanna—When you get a chance, can you let us know specifically which cases you’ve been trying out, and which one have (and haven’t been) helping the RSI issue? I’m thinking that if you’ve already gone through the trouble of trying out a bunch of different cases specifically for the RSI problem, other people out there (with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or whatever) could probably benefit from your experience.
Hi Dan. I have been playing around with the Kobo Touch cases from Indigo because they are what I found around the house. But the Kindle doesn’t quite fit so I have been propping it in the groove but not fully attaching it. I still have not decided if I truly do want a smaller device so I am reluctant to spend more money on a case specially for the Kinde until I do. I am waiting for the Kobo Mini to hit retail so I can try it. It lacks some features I have grown used to on the Kindle, so that gives me pause. But it’s just so cute!
Some e-reader covers have a handy elastic strap or pocket on the inside of the cover so that when the cover is folded back, you can slip your fingers through. Using the pocket, I don’t have to grip my Kindle quite as tightly, allowing my hand to relax and the weight of the Kindle to fall more on the palm of my hand. Plus, when I fall asleep reading, it keeps my Kindle from falling to the floor!
The Helo Tablet Strap described at Cult of Mac is one of several designs that have intruded on my consciousness since I began using an iPod Touch. It would be overkill for my device, but when I break down and get a tablet, slipping my unclenched hand through a sturdily attached strap looks like a really good idea.
My husband and I were having similar problems with the “grip tension” and strain on our hands, wrist and forearms. So, we decided to do something about it. He recently launched the Wingo Case on Kickstarter. We’d love to hear your feedback on the wing technology. Our goal is to develop similar cases for all e-readers & tablets to make reading more comfortable no matter what your favorite position is! Please feel free to check out the rewards and be one of the first to get your very own Wingo Case…
Hi Joanna, thanks for the great article! To elaborate on Betsy’s comment, the medically-backed Wingo Case was originally designed to alleviate the pain of those who suffer from arthritis, but resulted in a case that is more comfortable for all. Also, since we focused our design efforts on reducing grip tension (successfully) it has the potential to PREVENT avid readers from developing repetitive stress injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. We are very passionate about our work and would love your support on Kickstarter.com if you believe in what we are doing. Thanks!