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When the pain started in Jean West's hands, she did what most hardworking entrepreneurs do: She ignored it.

"I was doing a lot of medical transcription," says West, who owns Type Right Secretarial Services in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. "Because there were too many interruptions during the day, I'd bang away in the evening in four- or five-hour stints. There were times when the pain got so bad, I couldn't work one more minute."

Today, more people are spending hours at the keyboard, and that means more cases of injuries like tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. These problems result when repetitive motions damage nerves, joints, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissue.

West was fortunate; a split keyboard, coupled with less time spent doing intensive typing, led to freedom from the pain in a few months. But the best advice is to avoid these injuries in the first place. Here are some suggestions:

  • Warm up by doing simple stretches before starting any intensive activity. For useful stretches, read Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries, by Sharon J. Butler (New Harbinger Publications, $17.95, 800-909-9795).
  • Take lots of breaks; five-minute breathers every hour should help.
  • Use the correct equipment. Seek chairs, desks and lighting with which you're comfortable. Many people now swear by the split keyboards that helped West.
  • Maintain good posture. If you work at a desk, rest your feet flat on the floor and face straight forward. When using a computer, the desk height should allow you to maintain level, flat wrists, hands and an upright posture. Thighs and forearms should be parallel to the floor.
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