Why is typing with long nails bad for you? Before we answer that, here’s another question: have you ever stopped to look at your posture at work? If you are lucky, your facilities manager did a health and safety assessment adjusting your workstation, desk and chair. Job done, right?
Are you typing with long nails? You may need to think again: look at your wrists. Are you bending your wrists at an angle? Do you ever get pins and needles after a long day at the computer?
Computer programmers, web designers, typists and PAs tend to suffer from repetitive strain injuries from fatiguing the same muscle groups in their forearms and shoulders.
The key muscles used in typing are: extensor carpi radialis longus and brevis and extensor carpi ulnaris, extensor digitorum, indicis, digiti minimi, pollicis longus and brevis (these are the thumbs muscles so you would probably use the right thumb more for the spacebar and the mouse if right handed), palmaris longus.
The forearm has a whole group of muscles responsible for activating the movement in the wrists and hands and they include: pronator teres, flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor digitorum superficialis.
A research paper summarising the key findings on the effect of typing on the hand muscles found that, although technology has improved the comfort and reduced the effort once associated with typewriters, the level of muscle engagement is still high as fingers are in isometric contraction for long periods of time.
This is complicated further if you have fake nails or long nails: if you have short nails you are already contracting fingers, hands, wrists and forearms but with long nails you are also hyperextending the extensor muscles in the fingers as you need to type with the pads of your fingers. The dorsal interossei muscles on the back of the hand are responsible for raising your fingers and keeping them that way.
Continuous typing with long nails doubles the intensity of effort and strain for the phalanges and the joints in the hands and wrists.
To prevent strain and injuries including pins and needles and chronic pain, the top tips are:
- have regular breaks, ideally a few minutes for each hour worked
- stretch your arms, forearms, shoulders and neck throughout the day with slow, continuous movements. See the short video tutorial below for stretches you can do any time during the day, particularly if you have been typing for a long time
- have regular massage, physiotherapy or osteopathy, with a frequency,ranging from once a week in cases of chronic pain to once a month as a maintenance programme. Deep tissue, Swedish massage, acupressure massage or myofascial release are all excellent techniques to ease discomfort and increase flexibility in the joints.