Wednesday, 14 November 2012

RSI Prevention Part 9 - Gripmaster Hand Exerciser From Prohands.Net

Another Ergonomics Blogger

I recently read a great blog post on ergonomics, which recommended a number of things for programmers.
Amongst the recommendations were some things that I have previously written about here, here and here, so I was pleased that it wasn't 'just me'.

He also recommended strength training using Your Shape 2012 on the XBox 360.
Well, I already use Your Shape and had noticed a difference with my shoulders and neck, so much so that I left a comment on Evan's blog to that effect.

Use The Force, Luke: Get A Hand Exerciser

I had also been considering getting a hand exerciser, or grip strengthener, which I had seen on Amazon
So I was prompted to 'go get it' and here are my results.

To explain, I usually start the week with my hands feeling ok because I have rested them over the weekend.
But by the end of a working week, particularly if I have done a lot of typing, they are aching again.
I thought that since exercise for my shoulders had helped, then perhaps this would too???

The "GripMaster" hand exerciser (pictured left) is a small, simple gadget that fits in your pocket (well, a decent sized pocket anyway!).
It consists of two pieces of shaped plastic with a set of smaller finger-sized plastic pieces attached, with springs between them.
To use it, you just squeeze it for a few seconds and then release the tension or at least, that's the theory.

How Tough Are You(r Hands) Mr Ergonomics?

There are several 'versions' of this gizmo available, with easy, medium and high tensions.
Even though the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, they were mostly written by people who were into a particular sport (like rock climbing) or were musicians trying to improve their guitar or [insert name of instrument here].
So I was still a little bit in the dark about whether it could help me with my mouse and keyboard problems.
After checking each one out, I eventually decided to buy the middle/medium tension one.

"Nil point"

When it arrived, it was well packaged and there appeared to be a nice little instruction leaflet with it so I eagerly opened it up to see how it worked.
Sadly, I was disappointed to find a glossy double-sided page, advertising all their other products with just 2 pictures of exercises, or more accurately, hand positions you could use with the thing.
As they say in Eurovision "Nil point"!

However, there was a web address for where I could get more information.
The first chance I got I fired up the Prohands website, which opened up with a helpful screen for either sports pros or musicians.
I was just going for basic strength, so went down the sports route to reveal a page with lots of example exercises and better still: instructions!

Why bother?

Why am I making a point about this?
Well I'm glad you asked.

You see, without even thinking about it, I had assumed that I should just 'pump' on the exerciser and increase the number of repetitions.
This is what you would do for standard weight training at the gym if you were toning your arms, for example.
- You either increase the weight for more strength or add repetitions for more stamina once you have the basics in place, right?


According to Prohands, you should squeeze the GripMaster gently, hold it for a few seconds and then release.
You can do this for your whole hand or individual fingers, depending on the exercise.
If I hadn't gone to the website and learned this fundamental piece of information, then I could have damaged my hand unwittingly.

To be fair, there is a warning in the leaflet to "be careful" when exercising and go slowly.
However, the website is great, but it really should be in the original packaging too.

So that's +100 for the website, -1000s for the 'boxed product', IMO.

The Good Stuff: How The Gripmaster Works

Ok, now I've got that off my chest I can get to the good part!
The explanations on the website were excellent: clear, concise and with extra videos in case I wasn't sure of anything.

With a little common sense, I located two or three exercises that seemed to fit with my situation.

I soon found out that my third and fourth (ring and little/'pinky') fingers were a lot weaker than my fore- and middle fingers.
Perhaps it should have been obvious, but it was still a revelation to me quite how much difference there was.

What Has It Got In Its Pockets?

The great thing about the GripMaster being a small device is that I was able to put it in my pocket (I love pockets, a subject for another day! -no kidding) and bring it out whenever the mood took.
It came with me to the kitchen and the toilet; basically anywhere away from my desk where no one would think I was weird. (Hmmm...?)

Over the first 2 - 3 days, the discomfort in my hands was just as bad as before, or maybe even slightly worse.
However, after that it started to settle down and by the end of the week, there was a definite improvement when compared to the end of the previous week.

I have now used the GripMaster over 6-8 weeks, exercising my hands a number of times per day in the first two weeks and settling down to 2-3 times per day after that.
And I think it's working...!!!

It's still early days, but I can feel my hands are stronger than they were and although the ache isn't completely gone I feel that my hands are recovering more quickly after the end of the working week.

I will update this post again if anything changes, but on balance so far, I would have no hesitation in recommending this product to others.
You can also find out more about the Gripmaster in my article over on Squidoo.

I received a very interesting comment from Ronnie (below) saying how he had success with some proper strength training for his forearms, using weighted hand grips.
I would be very interested to know if other readers have experienced similar results with this technique.

What do you think, can strength training be effective at reducing pain from RSI?

This is part 9 of a series of articles on Ergonomics and computers.
Follow the links below to the rest of the series:
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  1. I've had RSI for about two months, had very bad pain in my forearms, wrists, hands and fingers whilst typing or doing anything with my hands, I couldn't even hold a newspaper without pain.

    I tried stretching, massages and two strengthening exercises (wrist curls and wrist extensions with light weights). They either didn't help or made things worse.

    The one thing that has made a huge difference is using the hand gripper. I actually used the standard hand grippers and not the Grip-master described here.

    I bought an adjustable one where I could manually set the resistance.

    I actually used it like a regular weight lifting device. I do 4 sets of 15 reps once or twice a day with a two minute rest between sets. Each day I increase the resistance. I don't hold the repetitions for a few seconds either.

    I've been doing this exercise for less than one week and the pain is 70-80% gone, I'm sure in another week it will be completely better.

    I think most cases of RSI are due to forearm muscle weakness and this is the perfect exercise tool to strengthen these muscles and get rid of pain.

  2. Thank you for a very interesting and informative comment, Ronnie.
    It was very timely too, because I have been struggling with my hands again over the past week or so.

    You make a very good case for strengthening the forearms and I hadn't thought of treating it in the way that you have done.

    I will try out your idea of repetitions instead of the 'slow hold' and see how it goes.

    Let us know how you get on.

  3. I have RSI in my right hand. It's difficult to type and even play games now. I have a hand grip and was thinking about doing exercises to strengthen those muscles. Have you had success doing hand grip exercises for RSI?

  4. Hi Gio,
    That's a very good question.
    I have certainly had success using hand grip exercises, in terms of helping my hand strength and using that to prevent the onset of RSI symptoms.
    I tend to fall out of the habit of using the gripper, but when I feel my hands beginning to ache after a day or two of heavy mouse use, I pick up the hand gripper and run through the exercises for a few days to set things right.
    This will be alongside resting my hands as well: if my hands are aching then I know I need to leave off gaming that evening and do something else, like reading or watching a movie instead.
    Please note that I am talking about prevention here, not cure.
    If you already have RSI diagnosed, I would recommend talking to your doctor (or physio) first as to which exercises would help the most.
    If, for example, you have issues with carpal tunnel syndrome, then this can be associated with inflammation of the soft tissues in and around the wrist - in which case, gentler exercise, or even a period of rest may be better for you.
    The other thing I have found really helpful is to strengthen the muscle groups around the affected area - if you read Ronnie's comment above, he has had great success by strengthening his forearms.
    I hope that helps!