Tech Tools to Help With Hand and Arm Injuries


Sometimes, through no fault of your own—or possibly because you were doing something stupid—fate dictates that you should lose the use of your “good hand.” Hopefully this is just a temporary situation, like an injury that puts your arm in a sling. Of course, many are not as lucky and suffer a permanent loss. In either case, we must adapt and teach ourselves to go about our lives using our non-dominant hand. It’s a difficult transition; If you’re right-handed, try typing an email using only your left hand to get a taste of what you’d be in for.

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My own injury was infuriatingly avoidable. I was snowboarding on some easy terrain and going about my turns a little more casually than usual. I caught an edge in a soft patch and went down. My arm lodged itself into the snow, my body kept going, and POP! Elbow dislocation, dominant arm, extraordinary pain, recovery time of one to three months.

When you suddenly lose the ability to use your dominant hand, you quickly realize all the things you’ve taken for granted. Tasks you’ve been able to do unconsciously for decades suddenly present a real challenge. It’s a humbling experience. While learning to use your non-dominant hand can be a valuable life skill, that takes months of training. Meanwhile, you’ve got a life to live, dammit. There’s work to get done. Thankfully, technology exists to help get you through the awkwardness.

Speak Your Mind

If you have long documents or emails to write, just pony up and purchase Dragon Dictation. This speech-to-text software has been around in one form or another for about four decades. 20 years ago, my uncle (who has only one hand) had a version that he found useful, but at the time, I thought it was comically bad. The software has improved of course, and is now pretty damn good. At $300 for the desktop version, it isn’t cheap, but being able to craft long documents and emails with just my voice is incredibly useful. In fact, this article is being written with Dragon as I (literally) speak.

Before I’d downloaded it, I was hunting and pecking with my left hand. My output was both slow and error-prone. With Dragon running on my five-year old MacBook Pro with its lousy built-in mic, I can speak more or less in a normal, conversational voice. The software has been nailing it. I can even do some light editing—correct spelling and capitalizations, slight rewording, fixing homonyms—with my voice.

There’s also a mobile version called Dragon Anywhere, for use with smartphones and tablets. It’s a subscription-based service, which isn’t too bad if you’re just out of commission for a little while. However, while the desktop version of Dragon works across the whole system, the mobile version’s prowess is confined to its own app. Basically, you compose what you want to say in a document within the app, and then copy/paste it to your email client, word processor, or Facebook post. It’s not incredibly convenient. It’s probably not worth it for Android users to shell out the $15 monthly fee, since Google’s voice-to-speech algorithm is really pretty good and can be launched from within most apps. iOS users might consider Dragon Anywhere, though, as I’ve found Siri to be more error-prone and tougher to use for dictation, especially since you can only speak in shorter blocks.

Brush Up

This seems like such a simple thing, but it wasn’t until I tried to brush my teeth left-handed that I realized how annoying this injury was going to be. Those tight and controlled up-and-down movements are really hard to replicate with your off-hand. I ended up going too hard and bloodying my gums on my first try. For this reason, I’d highly advise using an electric toothbrush. Philips Sonicare has a wide variety of models I like, but really any electric toothbrush will do. Compared to traditional brushing, you don’t have to be nearly as precise or generate as much of the movement.

Also, flossing. You can’t do that anymore—not in the normal way, at least. There are people out there who will tell you to buy a hundred pack of those little mini flosser things that look like tiny bows, but those people are monsters who don’t care about creating a ton of plastic waste. Instead, get yourself a floss holder handle thingy, like this one from Gum. It costs less than ten bucks. Grip it in your teeth, wrap your floss around it, and you’ll be one-handed flossing in no time. But again, I found my off-hand to be lousy at delicate work, so be extra gentle and take care not to slice your gums.

Knot Easy

Fun fact: Tying your shoes one-handed is tough. Attempting even the simplest shoelace knots with your non-dominant hand will make you want to punch yourself in the head. It can be learned (and definitely should be if your loss is permanent), but it’s possible that you have better things to do with your time than re-learn this task you mastered in first grade.

Do yourself a favor and get yourself some bungee laces. You can get elastic shoe laces in a variety of colors and lengths. Thread them into your normal shoes, then fasten them and cut them to fit. You may have to ask a friend to help install them, but they’re worth the hassle. Not only do bungee laces combine the ease of a slip-on with nearly the same support of a laced shoe, they’re actually comfy as hell. They’ve long been my preferred lacing system for all of my running shoes. For day-to-day stuff, I’ve been wearing the Keen Glenhaven, which are super comfortable and good-looking enough for me to wear to meetings or on dates.

There’s also a new shoe company called Kizik that makes shoes that look like they have traditional laces, but you can actually just step right into them and walk away. The secret sauce is a patented titanium spring in the heel, so you can just step on it, slide your foot in, and the heel returns its shape behind you. Really slick idea, and they look good, too.

Hunger Pains

Yep, even eating sucks now. Anything you would like to eat that would require you to use a knife and fork together is going to be problem. Now, you could just limit yourself to bite-sized foods like penne or sushi, or you could get a Knork. It’s a knifey-fork (See what they did there?) that’s designed in a way to let you cut through your food by rolling the side through it, and then skewering it normal fork style. It somehow manages to do a good job without cutting up the inside of your mouth. If you’re just out of commission for a little while, you can get a single sample Knork for $5.

Muscle Matters

If you’re trying to shorten the duration of your recovery period, avoiding muscle atrophy is key. You’ll lose a little muscle mass from keeping a limb immobile for two weeks, but more importantly, you can lose as much as a quarter of your muscle strength in the appendage.

With limited mobility, though, you’re probably short on exercise options. I spent the last week using the PowerDot, an FDA-approved electric muscle stimulator. You attach the electrode pads to the area you’d like to stimulate, and then use an app on your phone to select a predefined program. It’s small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. You can manually adjust the intensity along the way. Basically, you can stimulate your muscles and potentially speed your recovery process without moving your arm at all.

Poopin’

A large percentage of the human population only ever uses their left hand to wipe themselves—sometimes without toilet paper—so it’s a skill that most certainly can be learned. It’ll just be awkward at first. Alternatively, you could just improve your entire life and buy a bidet toilet seat, which exposes toilet paper as a sucker’s game.

I really, really like the Swash line from Brondell. The company has everything from cheaper units which just supply warm water to the posterior, to expensive units with heated seats, warm air driers, adjustable nozzles, and remote controls. Those are fantastic. If you have the cash, the Swash 1400 will pretty much ruin regular toilet seats for you. There’s one catch: You will likely have to ask a friend to help install it.

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