How-To Geek

Help Prevent Carpal Tunnel Problems with Workrave

Whether for work or leisure, many of us spend entirely too much time on the computer everyday.  This puts us at risk of having or aggravating Carpal Tunnel problems, but thanks to Workrave you can help to divert these problems.

Workrave helps Carpal Tunnel problems by reminding you to get away from your computer periodically.  Breaking up your computer time with movement can help alleviate many computer and office related health problems.  Workrave helps by reminding you to take short pauses after several minutes of computer use, and longer breaks after continued use.  You can also use it to keep from using the computer for too much You time in a day.  Since you can change the settings to suit you, this can be a great way to make sure you’re getting the breaks you need.

Install Workrave on Windows

If you’re using Workrave on Windows, download (link below) and install it with the default settings.


One installation setting you may wish to change is the startup.  By default Workrave will run automatically when you start your computer; if you don’t want this, you can simply uncheck the box and proceed with the installation.


Once setup is finished, you can run Workrave directly from the installer.


Or you can open it from your start menu by entering “workrave” in the search box.


Install Workrave in Ubuntu

If you wish to use it in Ubuntu, you can install it directly from the Ubuntu Software Center.  Click the Applications menu, and select Ubuntu Software Center.


Enter “workrave” into the search box in the top right corner of the Software Center, and it will automatically find it.  Click the arrow to proceed to Workrave’s page.


This will give you information about Workrave; simply click Install to install Workrave on your system.


Enter your password when prompted.


Workrave will automatically download and install.


When finished, you can find Workrave in your Applications menu under Universal Access.


Using Workrave

Workrave by default shows a small counter on your desktop, showing the length of time until your next Micro break (30 second break), Rest break (10 minute break), and max amount of computer usage for the day.


When it’s time for a micro break, Workrave will popup a reminder on your desktop.


If you continue working, it will disappear at the end of the timer.  If you stop, it will start a micro-break which will freeze most on-screen activities until the timer is over.  You can click Skip or Postpone if you do not want to take a break right then.


After an hour of work, Workrave will give you a 10 minute rest break.  During this it will show you some exercises that can help eliminate eyestrain, muscle tension, and other problems from prolonged computer usage.  You can click through the exercises, or can skip or postpone the break if you wish.



You can change your Workrave preferences by right-clicking on its icon in your system tray and selecting Preferences.

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Here you can customize the time between your breaks, and the length of your breaks.  You can also change your daily computer usage limit, and can even turn off the postpone and skip buttons on notifications if you want to make sure you follow Workrave and take your rests!


From the context menu, you can also choose Statistics.  This gives you an overview of how many breaks, prompts, and more were shown on a given day.  It also shows a total Overdue time, which is the total length of the breaks you skipped or postponed.  You can view your Workrave history as well by simply selecting a date on the calendar.


Additionally, the Activity tab in the Statics pane shows more info about your computer usage, including total mouse movement, mouse button clicks, and keystrokes.



Whether you’re suffering with Carpal Tunnel or trying to prevent it, Workrave is a great solution to help remind you to get away from your computer periodically and rest.  Of course, since you can simply postpone or skip the prompts, you’ve still got to make an effort to help your own health.  But it does give you a great way to remind yourself to get away from the computer, and especially for geeks, this may be something that we really need!

Download Workrave

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  • Published 03/18/10

Comments (5)

  1. Pat P

    I’ve been using Workrave for about six months. I really appreciate it. It took a little tweaking to find the right break times for me. My issue is with shoulder/neck muscle spasms, not so much carpel tunnel. The exercises included are great for me. After having used the program for a couple of months I discovered it has a report that shows how many breaks you took, how many NATURAL breaks you took, and how many time you skipped or postponed your breaks. Very helpful, small, unobtrusive program.

  2. Grant

    I have a different solution. There is nothing repetitive about how I type. It is really random. Mostly two fingers means that my hands have to move around a lot.

  3. Alec S.

    I started using WorkRave several years ago when my wrist started huring out of the blue (I had used computers for 13 years without pain before that). At first it worked great; I could feel the stretching and it was kind of a relief. However after a while, the stretches stopped having an effect (which I must admit makes sense: once you have stretched a muscle over and over, it no longer stretches as much).

    I eventually stopped using it, especially since the pain stopped, but now that the pain comes and goes (I strongly suspect dependent on my specific computer usage patterns), I think it’s a good idea to use it again.

    Of course, it’s best to avoid RSIs in the first place as opposed to treating the pain with stretches, and WorkRave is quite helpful with that. (Though to be honest, it’s not always easy to just stop what you’re doing simply because a program tells you to take a break for your health. :|)

  4. Alec S.

    I forgot to add that a good way to ensure that you will take the breaks and make the most of apps like WorkRave is to set up your environment just right. If you are crowded and have little room to move or get up, or covered in blankets and thick clothing or sticking to your sweaty chair, and so on, then it becomes inconvenient to get up and stretch. If your environment is spacious enough and comfortable, then it is much easier. Moreover, if you have nothing to do during the break (no getting a cup of coffee is not always the best task, especially if it has sugar and cream, etc.), then you will be more likely to skip the break altogether. Having things like magazines and books, or other quick and easy chores and hobbies that you can do for a few minutes is great because not only will you take the break, but you will get those tasks accomplished better than if you tried to do them in one chunk in your “free time”. (Of course the tasks should be something that truly is a break; no a quick game of FreeCell or Zuma does NOT COUNT!) The task does not necessarily need to be productive—though it’s much better if it were. You could for example watch a bit of TV or something (on your feet while stretching or doing jumping-jacks or whatever).

    One of the best things that you can do during the breaks is actual exercise. If you can do some full-body stretching, or use a little under-desk exercise wheel, or a short walk outside, or whatever, then you get the maximum health benefits of the break. ;) (Oh, and going to the bathroom isn’t a bad way to spend the break either since holding it is apparently to too good for you. :D)


  5. Phil C.

    Great program. I’d seen similar utilities for HP-UX workstation systems in the mid-1990s, and it’s nice to see something like it now available for Windows and Linux users.

    Another thing people can do is dump the mouse and go to a good quality trackball instead. I’ve been partial to Itac’s industrial “mouse-trak” trackballs since the late 1980s and find that one can use them for hours on end with minimal fatigue. Good trackballs are pricey, costing somewhere between US$100 and US$200, but compared to the pain and medical expenses of repetitive stress injury, they’re a bargain. I’m using a 15-year-old PS/2 mouse-trak at home, cleaned and lubricated many times, during a period in which I would have worn out 10-20 ordinary mice, so it has been quite economical.

    Even though the trackball decreases mouse hand fatigue, the utility still gives one’s body a break from typing, sitting still and staring at the screen, and is a useful adjunct to any system.

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