Mar 132012

Lately I had to slow down with writing and focus on finishing some old drafts because I’m trying to limit my typing: an initially mild and dull pain in top (end) joints of my pinky fingers kept increasing throughout the last six months and finally became so strong and sharp that I had to do something about it.

It took me a lot of time to determine whether the cause was my frequent and prolonged use of tablets and mobile phones, Playstation 3, piano playing, or long typing sessions on my laptop, but I believe I have the main causes singled out both by my “troubleshooting” process and internet research.

Long time ago I’ve read something about the “iPhone pinky” which recently gave me the idea to first look for the cause of my problems in the excessive usage of mobile phones and tablets. When I’m holding my heavy smartphone with either right or left hand (I’m ambidextrous), it rests and presses on the inside of my end pinky joint, which is a painful spot. Naturally, I tried to limit the time I spend on my phone and tablet and started using my laptop far more, hoping to recover. This wasn’t hard because I achieve things on the laptop at least twice as fast as on a tablet or a phone.

To my surprise, avoiding mobile devices didn’t make the pain go away and it actually continued to increase. By now I thought I was stuck with some form of arthritis. The end part of my pinky fingers (the distal phalange) has a bit swallen joint and looks like it’s mildly bending towards the ring finger.

To complicate things more, I had two more variables in this probable strain injury system that most other computer people usually don’t. I used to play the PlayStation 3 quite a bit (reached the highest rank of the Lifer/General of the Army in Battlefield 1943) and tend to squeeze the controller quite hard, and I also play the piano and except for a few years of classes with local nuns as a boy before a two decade long pause, I am mostly self-taught, so I thought this may be a result of an improper technique. However, I also noticed that after playing the piano I didn’t feel much worse, although I tend to pound bass octaves a lot with my left thumb and pinky when accompanying my singing to my daughters. Most of all, after staying away from the piano for over two months and from PS3 for even longer, the pain didn’t decrease, what shifted my attention to typing.

Throughout the years I’ve been feeling extremely lucky without the carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, using computers and typing as much as I do. The answer is probably in my unusual hands position, which is also one of the probable causes of my current problems.

After my recent abstinence from touch-typing on a laptop showed an improvement I am now focusing on the desk that is higher than it should be, and mostly on my improper hand posture on my laptop. Back in my cubicle days I used to annoy coworkers with my loud typing, so my technique is definitely not proper. Furthermore, when I type I tend to rest my palms on the keyboard, which also causes a very frustrating unpredictable mouse behavior whenever my palms touch the laptop’s touchpad. In the past I used to disable the touchpad and use an external mouse or a trackball whenever possible, but it seems I shouldn’t disable it any more – getting the mouse cursor to move unexpectedly with a touch of my palm is a sure sign I’m not positioning my hands right.

My internet research (that I didn’t do as thoroughly before beginning to write this post) points toward a repetitive strain injury (RSI). My left pinky is most likely irritated from the Shift key, but also from my very frequent use of cut, copy and paste combinations with Ctrl+x, Ctrl+c and Ctrl+v, which I perform with left pinky and index finger, but from now on am switching to the Shift+Del, Ctrl+Ins and Shift+Ins which involves my right thumb and middle finger. (Note to self – remember this in case these two fingers start getting painful). On the right side the RSI is probably getting fed mostly by the Enter, Shift and Backspace keys. Pinky fingers do a lot of work with touch typists, but when you add my loud “power-typing” on top of that, it’s a miracle this didn’t happen a decade or more ago.

Now that I’m back to controlled amounts of typing, I’m really careful how I do it – I try to keep my hands in a position like they are levitating above the keyboard, and I try to type as quietly as possible and this seems to be help. Both my hands and this poor and fragile chiclet keyboard, one of the weakest links on my Toshiba Portege r705, are getting a break. Once I can tell for sure whether things got entirely back to normal I’ll post another update here.

UPDATE September 9, 2012: My pinkies gradually got much better since I started avoiding any serious typing on my 13.3″ laptop and started using the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. Although they are not as painful as they’ve been and I barely ever notice the problem, they sometimes “feel it” when I go back to using my laptop in bed or when I’m using a tablet for too long. Interestingly enough, using a different, bigger 15.6″ laptop doesn’t seem to hurt them, so the catch must be in the positioning of my hands and palms when on the smaller unit, which makes me believe even more that this was a repetitive strain injury.

Recently I found these rehab moves for numb pinky and ring finger that weren’t there when I was researching this problem, so depending on the cause of your problem they might be useful, but my recommendation is to first consult a physician.

  3 Responses to “Painful End Joints on Both Pinky Fingers”

  1. I see you posted this in March. Have you seen any improvements? I have exactly the same issues along with the same typing style.

    • Well, I started being more careful how I type and the symptoms improved as long as I typed quietly, but then after an improvement I’d pay less attention to proper typing and it’d get a bit worse.  So recently I decided to bite the bullet and buy an ergonomic keyboard (went with Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 which to me seems really awesome) and no matter how much I pound on it it seems to not affect my pinkies much, so they’ve been slowly improving.  I also bought a Logitech Marble mouse so I can alternate between left and right hand.  My awesome Trackman Trackball is unfortunately good only for the right handed (and I’m ambidextrous), but now that I have the mouse on my left, my left pinky has been getting more improvement, because I don’t use the awkward Ctrl+X, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V combinations to cut, copy and paste (I keep my left hand on the mouse and use my right for arrows and Shift+Delete, Ctrl+Insert, Sift+Insert for these moves respectively.

      I read somewhere that re-mapping and swapping your left shift, Caps Lock and Ctrl buttons may help a lot with left pinky repetitive strain injury as well, but this keyboard has been helpful enough so I didn’t try any of that, and I apologize because I’m not sure which button needs to be mapped to which function, but it should be somewhere on Google.  Good luck and let’s keep exchanging results.

    • I have to confirm my previous statement – using Ctrl+ X, C or V combo hurts my left pinky most.  Few days ago I was retouching a photo and using these combinations a lot, which made my pinky hurt again.  Other than that, both pinkies have been slowly improving with the new ergonomic keyboard and I’m at a point where I barely notice it. 

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