It’s not easy being large

The Thinker by Rodin

People tend to look up to us taller people, both literally and sometimes figuratively. With two otherwise equal candidates in an election, the taller is much more likely to win. Being tall has certain advantages. Seeing the full screen in a theater is rarely a problem. It’s easier for men to find a mate when you are tall and your pickings tend to be better. It sounds sexist but it’s generally true that women prefer tall men. Reputedly, the air is better at my altitude too. I often wonder if I miss much of the world’s flatulence.

At six foot and two inches (188 cm) I’m not always the tallest in the room. Statistically, I’m at taller than 94.5 percent of American men, with the average man at 5 feet and 9 inches (175 cm). This does have some effects on everyday life. Take shoes, for instance. I take a size 14 on one foot and a 14.5 on the other. Most of my life I wore size 13 because I couldn’t find a size 14, which was probably a mistake given the many foot problems I had over the years.

More recently I find myself at a disadvantage finding an acceptable computer chair. I’ve been scouring Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley in search of a chair that will work for me. My height is a big problem, as the chair has to be elevated high enough so that my feet don’t cross when I sit on it. The chair needs to help me avoid sciatica not to mention the acute problem of the moment: pain in my wrists, arms and pinkies.

No, it’s not carpal tunnel syndrome, but close: strain of the extensor capri uluaris. As for the pinky finger on the right hand, that’s due to “weakness on the extensor tendon” according to Gail, an occupational therapist who came to my house to help me figure out my problem. I am a victim because I am a tall male with big hands who works with a mouse and keyboard a good part of my day using equipment designed for people at the 50 percentile. In addition, my desk is wrong. My keyboard is wrong too. And my mouse is wrong. The only thing that’s right is my monitor: it’s at the right elevation and angle. One thing is clear: being in the 95 percentile, it’s going to be costly to fix.

Take my mouse. It’s designed for the average hand, which mine is not. Donald Trump defensively claims that his hands are not short but anyhow they certainly are beautiful. While he brags about the size of his genitals if there is such a thing as hand envy, he surely would envy mine, which mirror my long feet and toes.

My large hand with Magic Mouse
My large hand with Magic Mouse

My hands are so large that most computer mice won’t work well with them. This was not obvious when I bought my latest iMac a few years ago, which came with the nifty Apple Magic Mouse. It was my therapist Gail who pointed it out: it may be sleek and sexy looking, but Apple utterly failed to make an ergonomic mouse. It has at best half an inch of elevation, which means the palm of my hand cannot rest on it, so I must engage wrist muscles and all finger tendons just to use it. That’s causing the “weakness on the extensor tendon” and is inflaming my wrist joint as well.

Moreover, it’s not wide enough. With long fingers my hand width is also wide. To use the pinky finger and the one next to it I have to scrunch them up unnaturally close together. In short, while Apple tends to get an A in designing sexy products, they got an F designing an ergonomic mouse. My solution is actually a number of solutions. There are a few mice designed for larger hands, like this one that costs $109 plus shipping. I’m also encouraged to change devices during the day. I am currently using this Logitech trackball mouse, which is still not quite big enough. My pinky falls off the side and hits the surface, irritating it. I also have a standalone Apple track pad, but I have to be careful there too, particularly to use a light touch. From all that use of my Magic Mouse, my pinky wants to push itself off to the side when I use mouse or keyboard, which inflames the joint with the hand. To cope, I’m trying putting some tape around the two fingers.

But I am also being told to move the mouse from the elbow. This means (as I’ve already discovered) that armrests on my chairs are bad, so I need a chair that doesn’t have them or one that can get out of the way. My Apple keyboard is not ergonomic either. I’m accustomed to its chicklet keys now but the keys are probably too close together due to my large hands and it might be better to use a keyboard that requires less force by the fingers. All this plus I’d do better with a split keyboard because regular keyboards force the wrists to move unnaturally toward the outside. I can’t use the Microsoft natural keyboard, because it won’t work with an Apple computer. There are some that can be ordered (example), but they are not cheap.

With my tall back I need good lumbar support, but it has to reach higher than most lumbar supports, so I need something that is adjustable. That’s the problem with my current chair, but there is also no upper back support so my back muscles tend to get tense, causing me to pinch my shoulder blades and lean forward. I could use a chair with a headrest as well. I’ve learned from my years with sciatica that the seat has to be flat and ideally padded with memory foam. It took a professional massage and three visits with a chiropractor to stop my back from hurting. I’m getting physical therapy for the arms and hands as well.

Then there is my desk. It’s too low. Because my legs are long, I need something an inch higher, but just as important I need more space for my legs. I have 28 inches and need 36. Right now my knees touch the bottom of the keyboard tray and, oh yeah, the keyboard tray needs to come out further too.

My future chair?
My future chair?

So I’m working through this piece by piece, concentrating on the chair and mouse for now. For the mouse I am trying the Magic Mouse Fixed, a $12 block of silicone that should allow the seat of my hand to rest on the mouse. It probably won’t solve the problem because the Magic Mouse is simply not wide enough. I found a used office chair in Springfield that might work. Even used they want $450, but they have a five day “try before you buy” program.

I’ll try to let you know in the months ahead whether all these changes will actually work. I’m being told there is no silver bullet, but I can improve things a lot. Meanwhile, I’ve got to stop and do some more of these ulnar nerve glides that the physical therapist wants me to do twice a day.

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