Adapting — Practical Stuff for Hands & Arms

Sometimes, I feel like such an idiot.

I’ve been promising to write a post about neuropathy, especially in the hands, which I know a lot of my readers suffer from.  There are a few treatment modalities that we physical therapists can perform with patients who have neuropathy, that can reduce or eliminate it.  I was hoping recently to use one of them with a patient of mine, then write my post.  But we only have one of these units at my agency, and it’s being used by someone else, so there you are.  My patient is out of luck for the moment, and so am I.  I’ll get back to you on that.

Meanwhile, I thought, what about adaptive stuff?  PT’s and OT’s are always coming up with tools and suggestions to make our patients’ daily lives a little easier.  So, I thought, okay, I’ll research some things and write a post about that.  Yesterday, I finally sat down to research some adaptive equipment for a few friends who are having some problems typing, writing, drawing and using their computers.  After a short flurry of online research for all the physical and occupational therapy equipment I knew about, and a few things I didn’t know about, it finally dawned on me that I needed a few bits of adaptive equipment myself.

Here I am, a physical therapist by trade, and suffering every day with right shoulder pain and tightness throughout my shoulder girdle and chest since radiation.  I know how to stretch it, strengthen it, avoid it, make parts of my house more ergonomic, etc.  But one of the things that can bother it the most is using my computer mouse, especially when I’m drawing on my computer.  Duh.  Then I asked myself how I could have had this blog for over two years and not written a post about adaptive equipment.  I mean, really!!  “Light dawns on marble head” (a Massachusetts joke based on a town called Marblehead).  So, better late than never, here’s a post about some adaptive items and techniques that a lot of us may find helpful.


This item is called the Trackman Marble, made by Logitech.  It’s part mouse and part trackball.  It represents my big ‘Duh’ moment earlier today.  I need this.  Desperately.  So, I ordered it.  For anyone who uses a computer a lot, including bloggers and artists who do a lot of drawing and Photoshopping, this baby can help save your arm and shoulder from freezing up after holding it in the same mousing position for hours on end.  It can be used with either hand, allows you to use your thumb for clicking, and the ball is sensitive enough to permit fine movements for using art and drawing software.  Click on the picture for info.

If you have embraced some version of a touch screen, the above item may come in handy.  It’s a touch pad input device that you use like a pen, called the Pogo Sketch, which will work with iPads and other Apple touch screens, like the MacBook Air, Unibody MacBook and Unibody MacBook Pro.  It will also work with these laptops: Sony VAIO FW and NW Series; Compaq Presario CQ60; Toshiba Satellite E105,M505,L305,L505,A505,P505D; Dell Inspiron 15 Series; Dell Studio 17 Series (but not Studio XPS); Dell Studio S1440 (but not 1555); All HP Touchsmart products; and the HP Pavilion DV4. It costs $14.95 and comes in four colors. If you click on the picture, it will take you to the website for it.  Many touch screens, like the iPad, are made to be used with your fingers, but if your fingers are numb from neuropathy, that may not be very practical.  The Pogo Sketch is a good sized thick pen that will let you write, sketch, and scribble on your touch screen.  (And there is a smaller version, called the Pogo Stylus, that you can use with your touch screen cellphone.)

If you have trouble gripping any sort of pen, including something like the Pogo Stylus, you can make it a lot easier to hold by adding an adaptive gripper.  You can get the following handy item, called a Gripeaze, which can be adjusted to fit any hand-held pencil, pen, marker, paintbrush, toothbrush, crochet or knitting needle, or any other household implement with a small diameter handle, like spoons and forks.  It costs $11.95.  Clicking on the picture will take you to the website for the Wright Stuff, which has lots of adaptive items to make daily activities easier.

If you want something more specialized for making art on your iPad, you can get the item below, which is called a Bamboo Stylus, and it’s made by Wacom, the folks who were making touch pads way before the iPad.  I have one of their Intuit Graphics Tablets, which comes with a touch pen and some handy pad keys that allow me to use the pen like an ink pen, a pencil, a paintbrush, a pastel or even a mouse.  The Bamboo Stylus was made to do all this especially for the iPad, iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone.


With or without a touch screen pen, one way to get a lot more out of your touch screen device is by adding some handwriting recognition software.  If you need to generate typed text, but can’t type, get tired of typing, or can’t use both hands, this kind of software allows you to write on your touch screen, with a stylus or your finger, then it turns even the most barely legible scrawl into text, and allows you to insert it wherever you want.  We have some of this on our laptops for work and it’s amazing.  You can correct the text and pretty it up, if need be, and even use little shorthand-type strokes to start a new line or move the text around.  Incredible.  Apple has such an app called WritePad, available through iTunes, that allows you to do this on your iPad and iPhone.  It costs $3.99.  For other touch devices and laptops, even other languages, VisionObjects has a software app called MyScript Stylus that can be uploaded to all sorts of touch screen and tablet devices, plus a mobile version for phones and other smaller devices.  It costs about $65.00 in U.S. currency.  Ritescript also makes similar software called ritePen, costing about $40.00.  This is the software used on our laptops at work, and it will work with many types of touch screen laptops and tablets, with a version available for the iPad.  Both VisionObjects and Ritescript offer free trials of their software.

There is another piece of software called SWYPE that allows you to drag a stylus or your finger across a touchscreen keyboard in order to produce text.  There is even a digital pen called IrisNotes that allows you to write notes on paper that are converted and uploaded to your computer and turned into editable text.  Miraculous!

One-Handed Typing

If you can type, but can’t use both hands, you can learn to touch type very quickly with one hand by using the helpful information provided by the wonderful Lilly Walters, whose website on One-Handed Typing On a Normal Keyboard, tells you how she learned to do it herself.  She provides tips, typing drills, and other sorts of information.  There is even a humorous video of her typing, in which she states, “This is One Hand Touch Typing.  I can type 85 words per minute, if I have had enough coffee!”

Voice To Text

Finally, if you just can’t use your hands at all or for very long, there is amazing voice recognition software [VRS] out there that will let you talk to your computer and turn your speech into text.  A website called e-Speaking provides a free trial of VRS for Windows-based computers.  If you like the program, it is shareware software and only costs $14.00.  Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Preferred, by Nuance, is VRS that can work with all kinds of operating systems and all kinds of languages. It can be purchased for as little as $85.00.  The link will take you to a review of this software, plus a few others that have been rated by a group called Consumer Search.

If you are just not sure what to do about your particular problem, please feel free to email me.  Click on the Contact tab is at the top of this page or send an email to  You can also ask your doctor for a prescription for occupational or physical therapy.  A rehab therapist can often help you improve your mobility and decrease your pain, while helping you find adaptive strategies and tools that will work best for your situation.  There is almost always some solution that can make life a little easier.   Hope you find something here that might help you.

Please click on the post title or the comment link below to post a response.

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Wednesday, June 01, 2011 at 01:06 am, filed under Art & Music, Chemotherapy-IV & Oral, Fatigue, Health & Healthcare, My Work Life, Pain & Neuropathy, Radiation, Surgery & Reconstruction, Survivorship and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

14 Responses to “Adapting — Practical Stuff for Hands & Arms”

  1. perfect amazon…..thx for the info 🙂 …. this is me one-handed typing!

  2. Really important and informative posting! BTW, I have the mouse you features, and I LOVE it!!

  3. Terrific info, Kathi. I know you’ve helped a lot of women today. Cheers!

  4. This is a post my friend, Peg, needs. She has arthritis and has trouble holding pens and using her computer. So great! I’m passing it along to her.


  5. great info~ thank you, Kathi! I love you, sweet friend!

  6. This is wonderful, Kathi! I am going to repost this on my facebook page as a wonderful resource for people with hand or limb neuropathy, whether from chemo or any other debilitating source. Thank you so much.

  7. Thank goodness for people like you who are such a valuable resource for this stuff. Thanks, Kathi!

  8. Thanks for the practical info, Kathi. Since chemo and surgeries I too have trouble with long hours on my laptop, so the mouse is very interesting, thanks for sharing. XO Claudia

  9. Thanks Kathi! I have a wacom pad but I didn’t know about these other items. Sadly I still have massive pain. (Sorry to miss your show.. pain)

  10. A little update…I’ve been using the Logitech Trackman Marble for a couple of weeks now & it’s really made a big difference. My shoulder is no longer tortured after a session on the computer, especially when I am making art. I can do most art adjustments with it, and I still have my mouse plugged in if I find it too hard to draw with the Marble. With practice, I’m sure I’ll be able to do all my drawing with it or with my Wacom graphics tablet. For vector drawing, I actually find it easier to use a mouse. I also have a really nice keyboard from Logitech. It’s their Illuminated Keyboard. It’s not strickly like the ergonomic ones, because it’s straight across like a regular keyboard, but the input weight for the keys & the layout are particularly designed to make it easier to type. It’s wonderful & the keyboard is lit up, so it’s easier to see.

  11. […] luck! I’m off to take a nap now. Other posts you may find helpful: Adapting: Practical Stuff for Hands and Arms Back Talk 101 Back Talk 201 Losing It and Trying to Get It Back Please click on the post title or […]

  12. I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 1994. After being told I probably wouldn’t survive, I asked for and received aggressive treatment. I’ve survived — and am thankful for the past 20 years. To celebrate, my son walked a local event here in Spokane, WA — called Bloomsday. BUT around 2007 I began noticing a numbness and “prickly” pain in my left hand — like it was asleep. Since then, I went to many doctors and had carpel tunnel surgery, elbow surgery and neck surgery. No relief — my symptoms continuing to get worse. Finally, last year my neurosurgeon sent me to a neurologist because he couldn’t figure out what to do next. Five minutes into meeting with the neurologist I asked (as I had to all the other doctors) if my cancer treatment could have anything to do with my symptoms. After more nerve tests and other scans — his diagnosis was Radiation Induced Brachial Plexopathy. I cried — finally someone had a name for what was going on. Then I researched it and cried because I now have a clearer picture of what is happening and there is nothing I can do to stop the progression. After several hard weeks of a “pity pause” I’ve come to the conclusion that while I have to live with a constant distraction of my hand, arm and shoulder pain, I can still garden, play with my grand kids, walk my dog, and get on with life. It’s NOT easy! I’m often overwhelmed. The pain is, at times, unbearable. I give myself the luxury of “down time.” I watch a funny movie, play a game, listen to quiet music — anything that helps me regroup so I can continue to live as happy and positive as I can.

    I’m thankful for sites like this — while I don’t know anyone, it gives me something that is extremely hard to describe. I’m not alone. There are others who know and understand what I’m dealing with on a 24/7 basis. Thank you.

  13. Nora, it’s such a relief just to get the right explanation, isn’t it? You might also find another one of my posts helpful, as it goes into more depth about the kinds of problems that can affect the arm & shoulder after breast cancer treatment, with some good links that explain your problem & others in more depth:

    Good luck. And check back in to let me know how you are doing. xoxo, Kathi

  14. […] resource about lymphedema. The F Word. The nasty, but necessary, truth about post-cancer fatigue. Adapting: Practical Stuff for Hands & Arms. Trackballs, ergonomic computer keyboards, and other stuff for those of us with impairments. Losing […]

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