Repetitive Strain Injury

Repetitive Strain Injury


What is RSI?

The term ‘Repetitive Strain Injury' covers a broad range of problems caused by and aggravated by frequently repeated movements . Over time it can give rise to a number of related problems which range from minor, constant aches and discomfort to permanent disablements. It is an array of conditions which affect muscles, tendons, nerves and other soft tissues. Nowadays, the increasing use of computers has caused an increase in the chances of developing RSI; if you use a computer frequently it is in your interests to know and understand the risks involved. RSI is far easier to prevent than to cure, and by following a number of suggestions it is possible to keep the risk of RSI to a minimal level. Of course, if you subject your body to a frequently repeated movement the ideal solution would be to stop doing it in the first place, but often this is not possible. This article provides a helpful guide on how to avoid RSI in relation to using computers as much as possible.

Symptoms - How can I tell if I may suffer from RSI?

RSI can affect the neck shoulders, upper back, lower back, upper arm, forearm, elbows, wrists, thumbs and fingers (not necessarily all at once). Pain and soreness is often encountered in the neck, upper back and shoulders, and the hands tend to be affected by weakness, fatigue, aching, lack of endurance and loss of grip. Muscles frequently tighten up leaving them feeling hard and tense, especially in the arm and shoulders. Symptoms in the hands can be very diverse; factors such as tingling, numbness, loss of feeling, coldness, and loss of dexterity are all signs of RSI. Furthermore, suffers tend to feel the need to self-massage quite frequently.

Prevention

There are a number of things that can be done to avoid the onset of RSI when using a computer frequently. Among the most important of those is having and maintaining a good posture at your computer. There are a number of useful products on the market nowadays that are specially designed to help prevent RSI, and these are also worth investing in. Remember that preventing RSI is easy to do; curing it is more difficult.

Posture
  • Don't slouch!
  • Make sure that when seated at your computer your head, neck and shoulders are all in line - slumping your head and shoulders forwards puts unnecessary strains on neck, shoulders and surrounding muscles/tendons
  • Your back needs to be straight and upright to avoid putting stress on lower back. Research has shown that reclining ever-so slightly also helps this.
  • Bringing your chair closer to the desk/workspace helps - don't forget to move the monitor, keyboard and mouse to suit accordingly (see below for more detail).
  • Arms need to be in a ‘natural' position - elbows should not be overly bent - more than a 90 degree angle between upper arm and forearm is ideal. Upper arms should be by your side (not stretched forwards), and your wrists should lie straight with your hands in line with your wrists (to get a better idea, look at your index finger - it should be in a straight line with your forearm looking from both above and the side). Adjust your keyboard to make this easier - often it's better without props up at the back because they cause your wrists to tilt upwards.
  • By putting your feet straight out in front of you, you are more inclined to slouch your back, so try to keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Most of all, be comfortable and keep your neck, wrists and back supported - it will differ from person to person
  • The following websites offer useful pictures concerning posture;
    http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/AHTutorials/typingposture.html
    http://www.metamorphosis.com/theoryinfo.html
Actions
  • Don't grip the mouse hard or type heavily - release all tension and relax. Also, try to use a light touch when typing rather than hammering the keyboard.
  • Try to not hunch forward out of habit. If you have trouble seeing text on the monitor properly, increase the font size/resolution. You should be an arms length away from your monitor (further if it's bigger than 19"), and it should be centred with the top of screen more-or-less level with your eyes. It should also be tilted slightly upwards.
  • It is very important to take regular breaks - every half-an-hour is ideal. This is as important for your eyes as it is for your limbs. Use software to remind you if necessary.
  • Exercise regularly. If this is not possible, stretch muscles and limbs when you take a break from the computer (see the stretches below)
  • Try to only use the computer when necessary - overuse can make the threat of RSI greater. Try to limit the amount of time you spend on the computer per day, time yourself if need be.
  • Organise your workspace; The monitor, keyboard, mouse and chair all need to be easily ‘reachable' and comfortable to use - your body should not have to assume any unnatural positions. Arranging your workspace in this fashion helps to make sure that you don't fall into bad habits again. Try to use equipment that has been specifically designed to combat the onset of RSI e.g. a mouse mat with a gel cushion, lumbar roll, wrist rest and so on
  • Keeping warm is also important, because muscles and tendons are more susceptible to damage when they are cold. Following on from this, check to see if your mouse hand is colder than your other hand. If this is the case, you need to rethink the position of your mouse and/or the type of mouse mat used (one with a gel cushion may suit you better).
  • It is vital to rest your eyes when spending both long or short periods of time at a computer. Here are a few tips to help do this: Focus on some objects that are about 8 metres away from you. Look at them in turn, focusing on each one. Do this for about 30 seconds. Secondly, close your eyes and cover them completely with the palms of your hands. Stay like this for 30-60 seconds, taking slow, deep breaths. Not only does this rest your eyes, it is also very relaxing.
  • Pay attention to pain/discomfort/fatigue - it's there for a reason.

The PC Review Workout!

Stretches (N.B. These stretches are to be used to aid in the prevention of RSI, and are a guide if you have any of the symptoms described above. If you are worried about any worsening problems you are recommended to see your GP.)

Hands and Wrists

1.) Relax hands and wrists and shake for 10 seconds to loosen up

2.) Spread and stretch out fingers and hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Repeat.

3.) Pivoting the hand from the wrist, move up and down and then in circles. To get a greater stretch, use one hand to push the other backwards towards the arm so that the back of your hand is at more-or-less a right angle with your forearm, hold to feel the stretch. Repeat with other hand.

4.) Place hands palm to palm in front of you, fingers pointing upwards, keeping your hands and arms close to your chest (wrists should be level with your breastbone). Rotate your wrists so that your fingers are pointing downwards and away from you whilst keeping arms in the same position and hold for 5 seconds. Relax and then repeat.

Neck

1.) Keeping your head facing forwards, glide your head backwards in a horizontal direction keeping it level - you may find it easier to put a finger on your chin to guide it in the right direction. Hold for 5 seconds - you should feel a stretch down the back of your neck - then relax. Repeat two more times.

2.) Tilt head to the side (without tilting forwards or backwards) and hold for 5 seconds to feel stretch down side of neck. Repeat for the other side.

3.) Turn head to one side keeping it upright and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat to the other side.

Shoulders

1.) Roll shoulders in a circle with your arms by your sides, first five times backwards then five times forwards. Try to trace a big imaginary circle with your shoulders, but not so big that is causes discomfort.

2.) Put hands behind your back and interlace fingers, palm to palm. Straighten arms to feel a stretch in the upper arms and shoulders.

Back

1.) Stand up and rotate torso in one direction keeping your body upright, arms relaxed at your side. Repeat in the other direction.

Massage: If you are encountering pain and stiffness, massage can help alleviate it, whether done by yourself or someone else.

Conclusion

Repetitive strain injury can cause serious problems, which are more difficult to cure than to prevent in the first place. There are various types of RSI affecting different parts of the body, Carpal tunnel syndrome, Bursitis, and Rotator cuff syndrome are some typical examples, but there are many more. If you spend a long time sat at a desk or on a computer it is highly recommended that you take into consideration the potential problems of RSI, and take steps to prevent or combat it. If after reading this you think you could be suffering from symptoms of RSI, see your GP.

Author
Becky Cunningham
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