A comprehensive guide to overcoming Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): Part II

This three part series is a comprehensive guide to beating RSI with hardware, software, and physiotherapy exercise strategies. Part I outlined the hardware strategies so this article will focus on software interventions for overcoming  RSI.

Regular breaks and rest

The best way to combat repetitive strain injury is to interrupt the strain cycle by taking a break. This includes micro breaks (a few minutes) and longer breaks throughout the day. The Workrave software is really useful for providing gentle reminders to take regular breaks while using a computer. It works by showing popup notifications for micro and longer breaks (the frequency and length of breaks can be adjusted in the settings). To install this software in Ubuntu simply open a terminal window and run  sudo apt-get install workrave.

The power of Workrave lies in the fact that it helps you to reprogram the way you work. After a few weeks of using this software, taking regular breaks becomes your new norm. What is particularly helpful is incorporating stress alleviating exercises into the rest  breaks or standing up to physically walk away from your workstation.

In addition to breaks at the desk, taking regular rest days (a day or several hours away from computers and phones) is also essential in combating repetitive strain injury and maintaining a positive outlook . This could also include taking a long relaxing walk through a park as I did in the pictures below.

The important thing is to be mindful of how your wrists and hands are feeling and not to force yourself to work through the pain or sprint through a computer based task. Accept that, while you recover, your goals will need to be readjusted to accommodate your diminished capacity for computer work.

Phone computer input

RSI injuries such as wrist tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome make using a computer mouse or keyboard very painful. One alternative is to use your phone as the primary input to your computer by leveraging speech-to-text technology. This relieves a lot of strain because the keyboard and computer mouse is exchanged for a phone and stylus.  The open source KDEConnect software is one way to achieve this. This guide will show you everything you need to know to get started on the Ubuntu 16.04 platform.

It’s worth noting that rest and regular breaks are still very important when using this software to avoid repetitive strain from over using your phone. Using a stylus is better than typing on your phone with your thumbs or fingers and allows you to switch between your right and left hand. The iSOUL stylus is a good compromise between  affordability and quality.

20190807_113856

Stylus for using a phone

For preventing RSI we are interested in voice dictation to any open application on your computer, controlling the mouse from your phone, and programming shortcuts for your computer.

Installing KDEConnect on your computer

There are two parts to installing KDEConnect,  first you install it on your computer and then install the application on your phone.

  1. Add the appropriate Ubuntu PPA repository:sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/indicator-kdeconnect then run sudo apt update
  2. Install KDEConnect:sudo apt install kdeconnect indicator-kdeconnect

This will also install KDE Indicator Connect which is documented on this Github page and also  here.  Restart your computer after this installation.

Installing KDEConnect on your mobile phone
  1. Install KDEconnect and Gboard on your phone from the Google Play store. The Gboard application setup will take you to the Available virtual keyboard settings. Select Gboard, Google voice typing and KDE Connect Remote keyboard. On my Android phoone these settings can be toggled on/off  under Settings > General management > Language and input > Virtual keyboard > Manage keyboards.
  2. Open KDE Connect Settings on your laptop, click on your phone device and select the Request pair button.  With the KDE app open on your phone, you should click Accept pairing. Now the devices are paired!
Using KDEConnect to manage RSI

The Run Command option is one of the most powerful tools in KDEConnect. It allows you to run terminal commands at the click of a button. A useful list of commands is available on the official Wiki page. To get started you could add commands for running PyCharm, Firefox, CLion, and suspending your computer. Declaring these commands as aliases in your .bash_rc file allows you to perform these function with just a single click on the app (preventing unnecessary mouse or keyboard use).

The Send files option allows you to send files between the two devices and Slideshow remote allows you to use your phone to transition through slides during a presentation. Multimedia control lets you control music applications like Rhythmbox and Remote input allows you to control the cursor from your phone and type using the virtual keyboard or voice commands.

On the main menu, select Remote input. Here you can use your phone as a trackpad and also use the keyboard by selecting the keyboard symbol on the top right. Typing on the phone keyboard will make the text appear on any open application. Having the GBoard keyboard also lets you speak into your phone to type on your laptop! To use voice typing, select the ?123 button then select the microphone symbol to speak.

It’s worth noting that you should be cautious when using these tools and not see them as a license to continue working for long periods of time without regular breaks. Fully recovering from RSI can takes weeks or even months, and rest (with appropriate physiotherapy exercises to strengthen your wrists) is a huge part of the recovery process.

Troubleshooting

If the devices do not pair up, make sure that your phone and computer are connected to the same WiFi network. If a firewall is enabled then open up the relevant ports using:

sudo ufw allow 1714:1764/udp
sudo ufw allow 1714:1764/tcp
sudo ufw reload

You can also try to pair devices by IP address.

In Part III we look at exercise strategies for combating RSI.

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