Rheumatoid arthritis patients who have a tough time using the computer keyboard might end up seeking potentially more destructive ways of putting their fingers to the keyboard. It was revealed at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in Atlanta this week.

Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune chronic disease results in pain, stiffness, swelling, and often ends with limited mobility. Although joints are generally the victim of the disease, inflammation can occur in other organs as well. As many as 1.3 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

Due to lack of adequate treatment, 60 percent rheumatoid arthritis patients fail to work 10 years after the onset of the disease.

There are approximately 215,000 professional typists, according to the US Census Bureau. A study was conducted recently to find out the effects of rheumatoid arthritis on hand and wrist motion during touch typing.

Researchers videotaped each of the 33 participants and each person was rated by a certified hand therapist to know the structural deformities. Finally, typing postures and motions were rated by two professionals trained in the use of the Keyboard-Personal Computer Style Instrument, an instrument that evaluates the postures and actions of keyboard users.

Participants with structural deformities due to arthritis exhibited more whole hand and wrist motions (commonly known as 'hunt-and-peck' method of typing) than those without structural deformities. It was also found that very few participants with structural deformities used a wrist support and there was hardly any difference in typing speed between the arthritic and normal participants.

Based upon these findings, researchers establish that alternative typing techniques such as the hunt-and-peck style, use of fewer fingers, floating the wrists, and keeping fingers straight rather than curved—may aggravate existing problems as it puts extra stress on already affected joints.

"This research suggests that as people develop changes in the structures of their joints, they may find alternative ways to accomplish tasks," said Nancy Baker, ScD, MPH, OTR/L, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and lead investigator of the study.

"The alternative methods are often to change their physical performance; for example they may slow down, change their postures, or move differently. While changing their performance may allow the continuance of doing the task, it may place them at risk for other problems. Thus, touch typists with joint damage may shift to techniques that place biomechanical stress on their already weakened joints," she said,

Researchers say using an ergonomic keyboard and moveable wrist support or even redesigning the computer workstation would help rheumatic users. "While altering tasks is almost certainly necessary in any disease or injury that causes physical changes, there are ways to make changes that are less likely to place a person at risk,” Dr Baker said.

She also said that providing access to occupational therapists may allow people with diseases like this to “identify and implement strategies that can keep them at work and at play and living life to the fullest.”