I've been suffering from a lot of elbow and forearm pain lately, and apparently it's caused by my arms and elbows constantly pressing against the desk.

My doctor says I'm damaging the nerves on my elbow, and if I don't use elbow pads (or spend less time with the computer), it will get worse, and I will be risking permanent damage to the nerves.

Since spending less time with the computer was not really an option, I purchased a pair of these:

Mueller Pro Level Elbow Pad w/Kevlar

They didn't arrive yet, and I know they will probably make me look like a total idiot (my girlfriend has already started making jokes) when they do, but health comes first.

Anyway, my question is: do you use any protective gear while programming? If yes, what do you use?



Seeing how this question still gets comments after more than a year, I think I should give an update.

First of all, my elbow pads never arrived. Turns out the retailer didn't really have them in stock, so they cancelled my order.

After reading the answers here, I decided not to place another order and considered other options. I rearranged my desk, adjusted my chair, and started giving myself breaks from coding (sometimes an hour, sometimes a couple of days) once I was done with my master's thesis. Earlier this year, I also started going to the gym for the first time in my life.

In the end, I'm happy to report that I no longer have any elbow pain.

Once again, thanks to everyone who has responded.

+28  A: 

I wear a helmet and shin guards.

Sara Chipps
Yeah, this is the exact same reaction my GF gave. Must be something with the second X chromosome. =))
Can Berk Güder
You need a helmet in case your program crashes :)
Chris Latta
+13  A: 

protective gear should start with a good desk, chair and keyboard. Unfortunately of seems too late in your case, but I would seriously consider investing in the three items above

Robert Gould
Yeah, chair is sooo important!
Jarrod Dixon
@Jarrod: Hey, don't tell me Jeff didn't buy you an Aaron =)
Can Berk Güder
I had an Aeron chair at home until by cats decided the shred the mesh seat. Its just perfect for their little paws. Learned the hard way to leave the nice stuff at work.
+1  A: 

I wear an helmet and a kevlar suit in case a colleague finds a bug in my code and decides that it is enough.

Is it fireproof?
Yes, you just boil with your own juice when heated.
+2  A: 

I've been through it myself, and I can tell you from experience you're better off to train yourself to a better posture. Arrange your chair so you can get your hands over the keyboard, and then train yourself not to rest your wrists or forearms on anything.

Your wrists should be flat and your hands directly above the keyboard, so your finger press more or less straight down.

Charlie Martin
+1  A: 

When I start to creak I switch to my stand-up desk. And usually forget to go back for a while.

le dorfier
Stand-up option made my pain go away (wrists, elbows). Also made me stay more alert. I do need a pad to stand on, though. Also, I made myself mouse-bidextrous and that helped.

half moon back pad is the purchase that i have made for my health


I have a dining room table as my computer desk. It's so spacious that my monitor sits behind my keyboard and I have plenty of room to rest my arms. My chair is adjusted to the correct height to allow no strain on my shoulders. It's amazing what a large desk will do for you, since at work I have a tiny cubicle desk and it's very uncomfortable.

Rob Elsner
+2  A: 
John MacIntyre
I've been told this is a bad idea. To reduce repetitive strain injury you want to spread the motion across the full range of your arm. Planting your forearm or wrists on a rest just encourages the motion to be isolated in the wrists.
Steve Kuo
@Steve Kuo-I don't know too much about it, but that arm rest is not stationary. It moves as you move. It works pretty nicely, and feels resistence free.
John MacIntyre
Or you could just move the keyboard and mouse back and rest your arms on the desk.
@tsilb-But wouldn't that encourage you to lean forward, destroying your back posture?
John MacIntyre
this device works nicely, combined with proper height alignment, good chair, split keyboard. BUT the mousepad is a terrible idea. use (two) rollerball mice.
Peter S Magnusson

A good book on this is Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User's Guide . It goes over various workstation and posture aspects of what causes computer related repetitive strain injury.

Steve Kuo

if you haven't already, be sure to make sure your chair/desk/monitor alignment are optimal.

examples of good computer setups

i myself have a nice padded armrest to take stress off my elbows.

i also have to use the bean bag cushions in front of my keyboard and mouse so my wrists aren't touching any hard surfaces. imak products

make sure you get up and stretch often too!

+11  A: 

The protective thingie some here are alluding to is called "muscles".

That might sound a little bit aloof. But trust me. They work, if properly exercised and applied ;)

Friend of mine (programmer, of course, heavy into programming during spare time too) told me some time before of his back pains. And that he would sit in the bathtub to relieve the pains. Asked by me, why he wouldn't do some back-exercises every morning, he replied in earnest, that he - father of two and programmer - would not have the time to do such exercises.
But he had the time to sit in the bathtub to relieve his pain. Yeah, that is certainly the right kind of mindset :)

+1 for preventative exercise.
Christian Nunciato
+1 as a programmer and father of 2, I must say he was onto something.By the time when you DO get 10 mins to sit in a bathtub (that happens once every couple of weeks), you won't have ANY energy to work out :)
again, as i commented above, this addresses back and shoulder issues, not wrist, hand, and fingers.and i agree with your suggestion to your friend. a hot shower in the morning, a few pushups, and some simple stretches will do wonders.
Peter S Magnusson
I do exercises in 5 minute breaks, mainly to deal with elbows/knees issues. It makes you feel a lot better, even if you only do about 15 minutes throughout the day. And I also have two demanding children.
Hugo Estrada
Pushups won't help your back. They will even bring more problems if you got weak back muscles.

I roll with an Aeron, myself.

Christian Nunciato

I know a lot of people shove the keyboard and mouse deep into the desk and rest their whole arm on the desktop. What's comfortable for me is to keep the keyboard and mouse on the edge of the desk, and rest my hands on the edge of the desk with my elbows hanging down.


Don't forget the mouse. I find it more natural to work with a thumb trackball than a traditional mouse. I've heard good things about the joystick mice too.

+14  A: 

I always wear protection while programming.

Adam Rosenfield
haaaaaaaa I love that one.
Sara Chipps
+4  A: 

Why are your elbows pressing against the desk? It seems like you need to do two things:

1) Sit up straight! You shouldn't be leaning forward or your back will be utterly ruined in a few years

2) If your elbows are still leaning on the desk when you sit up straight, then raise your chair up to the correct height.

Orion Edwards
Our office chairs don't raise enough to get to the correct height for our desks. Apparently looking good is more important than ergonomics.
Steve Crane
I had a co-worker at a previous job who was about 4'6" in heels. Some of the engineers sawed the legs off of her desk to make it useable for her. She still had a foot rest in front of her chair because her feet didn't reach the floor, but at least the desk was the right height.
Props to your engineers for sawing the legs off the desk. Most jobs would just tell her to deal with it rather than damage a $50 desk :-(
Orion Edwards

I used to wear typing gloves with padding on the palm side of them to prevent me from resting my wrists such that my hands were bent from my forearm.

However, that was hack--the real problem was a bad chair, a mediocre keyboard, and improper keyboarding height. Now that I have a proper keyboard height and a pair of split (completely physically separate) Kinesis keyboards, I can do 16 hour days without any hand pain at all.

In fact, the only time I get pain in my hands is when I sleep in a weird position.

Also, regarding mice: I've tried everything. Glidepoints, trackballs, the vertical 3M mouse, wireless mice, big mice, little mice--but my favorite mine are $12 Logitechs. Optical, scroll wheel, but that's about it. I secure the cord about 12" from the mouse to the desk so I'm not dragging the whole wire. I've found that wireless mice are just too heavy and that exhausts my arm--even the new Microsoft ones with tiny lightweight rechargeable mice.

And finally :-) I found that making the cursor REALLY BIG helps. I run a 96 x 96 pointer, and it looks stupid--but I no longer am moving the mouse rapidly to find the cursor. I hadn't even realized I was doing this before, but my mousing arm doesn't hurt anymore at all.

Mitch Haile
+8  A: 

One of the best things you can do as a programmer is to keep yourself in great shape. You don't need to be a bodybuilder or strength athlete or anything, but you should get yourself in the gym a couple of times a week.

I recommend strength training with weights, something that increases joint flexibility in the back and arms should do you well. If you do these things, then you shouldn't need protective gear like that for when you program.

upper body strength workouts is one of the least appreciated adjustments. it's not entirely unproblematic, however, because they can strain hand/wrist/fingers as well. and i would strongly disagree with the assertion that nickohrn makes. upper body strength will only help neck/shoulders/arms, not hands and fingers. you can do some hand/finger exercises (balls etc) but it's not clear how much that will prevent injury.
Peter S Magnusson
I warmly recommend yoga. A good yoga practice exercises the whole body, moves (almost) every joint and muscle through their range of movement, stretches and strengthens at the same time. Also helps become more conscious about good posture and alignment. And even makes one's mental focus stronger and more sustained. There is a great range of yoga styles from the physically uber-challenging (e.g. Ashtanga) to the slow and gentle (e.g. Yin yoga), so everyone can find the right fit to his/her age and shape.
Péter Török

I have a special pair of glasses for the computer.

Apparently, a lot of people who wear bifocals compress their neck by spending all day with their heads up so they can look through the bottom part of the lenses.


i'm thinking about investing in some GUNNAR protective eyewear. has anyone used them, or know if they're legit?

Wow, I haven't seen them before. I don't know if they're legit but they certainly look cool, I'd like to try one. Do you know if they're available outside the US?
Can Berk Güder

Some of the answers here seem almost comical to me. If I didn't know some of these people ment it for real, I would take this as a stand/type-up comedy show. You say "health comes first". Seems to me, if you're thinking about any of the above suggestions, you've already got a wrong perspective on healthly living. Do your thing during the day/night, after that go out, walk a little, play tennis/basket ... , move around, hike, whatever may be your thing. People are moving creatures! ... so MOVE ! Go for a walk downtown with your lady. You can think about the problem at hand while walking. "A healthy mind in a healthy body" as they say.

Hey, hi, we're programmers. We don't go out.
Can Berk Güder
@Can: No; we go out, with programmers. We're programmers. We don't have significant others... lol
Adam Hawes
+10  A: 
Chris Ballance
What do you use to clean the bug residue off your visor?
If I'm typing fast enough, the residue vaporizes on contact.
Chris Ballance
+1  A: 

Tin foil hat is the only protective gear I need when writing code.

Other than the keyboard and mouse wrist support gel pad things of course ; )

David HAust

I wear:

  • Good chair
  • Comfy clothes
  • Oversize caffeine mug.

I've found that having a good chair, desk and keyboard is all I need to avoid any form of strain while working at the computer.

When the chair is adjusted to match the desk properly the only option is to use good posture; anything else is just plain uncomfortable for more than a few minutes.

Edit: also I found shedding the podgy bits that most programmers have has helped. Still got a ways to go, but it's less for you to hold up and the exercise to burn it helps with good posture and makes you feel generally better all round. It's amazing how much sharper you are when you do 20 mins of reasonably intensive workout daily.

Adam Hawes
+17  A: 

Oh my goodness, where do I start?

Some 15 years ago, after 15 years of coding (yeah that's 30+ and counting) I started developing the problems you describe, as well as others. Then I went to "experts" just like you have. And I started getting dangerous advice - like you are.

Do NOT do what the doctor is telling you. He is clueless, and he will make it worse for you.

What is causing your problem is that your posture is such that you are putting upper body weight on your elbows and forearms. Your first symptom from this is injuries to those body parts, notably the elbow.

If you follow your doctor's advice, it will relieve your elbow, but as a programmer, your elbows are not what you should worry about. You should worry about your fingers.

If you are having pains from your elbows, that means that you are (a) leaning heavily on them and (b) they are in fixed positions. The latter is your real worry, but you just don't know it yet.

By having your upper arms pinned at your elbows, you are forcing your fingers to do more work. Instead of using the muscles of your arms, shoulder, and neck to help you navigate your keyboard and mouse, you are now forcing your fingers to do all the work.

Basically, your elbows are your first sign of danger - your fire alarm, if you will. And your doctor's advice is to pull out the battery.

You need to change your posture and habits. Better keyboard, chair, table, and mice (always have more than one) are probably among them. Taking regular breaks to stretch. Working out with static muscle exercises to strengthen your arms and shoulders should probably also be a part of it. Making sure you are hydrated and that the room is a suitable temperature (not too cold). There are long lists of things worth considering.

Anybody planning on a long career in coding should invest a serious amount of time hearing various opinions and facts about ergonomics. There are no simple fixes, few reliable single sources. Take my advice, too, with a rain of salt - I ran into BIG trouble because I listened to the "experts". Seek lots of perspectives.

And listen to your body. Pain is always a warning sign, but it can be hard to interpret.

Peter S Magnusson
First of all, thanks for the advice. But my doctor also happens to be my father, so I believe he understands my problem better than any other doctor can.
Can Berk Güder
@Can Berk Güder, you never watched House, right? :)
@Benjol I just saw your comment (after almost a year). House happens to be my favorite TV show. =)
Can Berk Güder

Parkour keeps me and shape and from having those types of problems. I've only been doing this stuff for 7 years now, but as long as I stay active I don't have problems.