The Ultimate Guide To Preventing Repetitive Strain Injury

Technology is great, isn’t it? I mean, can you imagine going about your day-to-day life without it? Whether it be using a computer at work, using a smart phone to stay connected with friends and keeping up to date with the latest Snapchat, Insta story and Tweets, or using an iPad to watch funny YouTube vids of cats after a long, hard day (come on…we all still do that!), all of us are guilty of spending more time than is healthy on these devices.

I wrote a post recently about my experience of going on a digital detox for a week, and whilst that is completely doable for the duration of a holiday or the occasional weekend, it is of course entirely impractical for the standard daily routine. But what’s so wrong about upping the time we spend using technology? Well aside from the mental and social implications, there is the huge matter of how it affects us physically, and believe me it is something we all need to be taking a lot more seriously.

I want you to take a moment to think about how you’re sitting as you read this article…

  • Are you sat upright, or slouched?
  • If you’re reading this on a phone, what position is your neck in? Is it bent downwards?
  • Or maybe you’re reading it from your laptop, in which case is the laptop on a table or on your lap? And are you looking at the screen from eye level or again bending your neck down?
  • And when you scroll down the screen, is it the same fingers doing the work?

My point is that these little habitual movements might seem completely insignificant, but if you’re in this position a lot, or indeed in any position for a long time, doing the same movements over a long period of time, then you are putting yourself at risk of developing RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). And in actual fact, you may even be experiencing some of the symptoms already.

What is Repetitive Strain Injury?

RSI is the term used for an injury that has been caused through the repetitive use of a particular body part. The most common areas affected include wrists, hands, forearms, elbows, neck and shoulders, but knees and feet can also be at risk. Unlike standard muscular injury, RSI occurs gradually, over a prolonged period of time and will last a lot longer. Today’s desk-based work culture is by far the biggest culprit for the increase in RSI sufferers, with incorrect sitting position, desk position, screen height, insufficient rest breaks and stress all contributing to bad posture and muscular damage.

Symptoms include:

  • Aches, pain or tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Throbbing or tingling sensations
  • Numbness or sensitivity
  • Weakness
  • Cramps
  • Swelling

It is also thought that workers who frequently use vibrating equipment or who are exposed to cold temperatures are at an increased risk of developing RSI and if you are already experiencing symptoms, these factors are certainly not going to help.

One thing is for sure and that is that prevention is better than cure, so the best thing you can do is take steps to prevent RSI from developing in the first place.

What Can I Do To Prevent Myself From Getting RSI?

It is very difficult to reverse the symptoms of RSI and even if you think the pain is starting to subside, if you revert back to working in the same way, or performing actions in a certain way, it is highly likely the pain will return with a vengeance.

There are certain things you can do however, that will help prevent RSI.

Take Regular Breaks

I’m sure you’ve all been preached at to take regular breaks when you’re at work, but it’s never as easy as all that is it? There’s that important report that needs doing, the dial in meeting with the US branch, Brian in accounts needs those invoices and don’t even get me started on the amount of emails stacking up in your inbox; there is always something that needs to be done…and NOW! So believe me, I get it.

But it’s important, so if you’re really that busy that you’re unable to stop for lunch, then you’re going to have to start getting smarter. Why not have that phone meeting whilst wandering around, stretching your legs a bit? Or go and hand those invoices to Brian personally and on your way stop and make yourself a coffee too. And as for those emails…set yourself a time limit for sorting them, say 20 minutes, and after that time stand up walk around the office and then come back to them. Experts recommend that for optimum RSI prevention you should be aiming to take a five minute break every 20 to 30 minutes of continuous activity, so do yourself a favour and start factoring these little mini breaks into your day.

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

How you sit and what you sit on is the key to good posture, and good posture means you are far less likely to suffer from RSI. A good office chair should be adjustable and allow you to sit up straight, without slumping over the keyboard. If a chair is positioned too low it can cause the shoulders to raise up and create tension between the back and neck. Likewise if it is positioned too high, it will force you to bend and hunch over the desk, again creating tension in those areas.

Ideally a chair should be adjusted to a height that allows you to sit in a position in which your forearms sit at 90 degrees on the desk with your shoulders in a relaxed state. There should be approximately a 5 cm gap between the front seat of the chair and the backs of your knees and your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees also at a 90 degree angle.

Could It Be Your Keyboard?

The position of your keyboard is just as important as the position of your desk and chair so make sure you get it right. It should sit on a flat surface, either at or below elbow level, as this allows your wrists to type in a neutral position and thus reducing any strain or tension. A handy guide to remembering good keyboard positioning is to always keep the keyboard within the width of your shoulders. If you have a particularly wide keyboard then it could be time to invest in a smaller one as any stretches outside of the ‘shoulder-zone’ increases the risk of RSI. Your shoulders should feel relaxed and comfortable and ideally you should be able to reach and type on your keyboard without being able to see any space between your arm and your body.

And What About Your Mouse?

Could something as small and seemingly insignificant as a computer mouse really cause that much damage? You’d be surprised. Many people develop RSI in the hand they use a mouse with, as it’s those small yet repetitive movements that build up over time and create muscle fatigue.

There are a couple of different things you can try:

  • Switch mouse hands – only a very short term solution and it may result in developing RSI in both hands. Not ideal!
  • Use a gel wrist pad – this should ensure your wrist is held in a better position when using a mouse and even when just resting.
  • Create keyboard shortcuts – quite simply the less you use your mouse the better.
  • Use a vertical mouse – but let’s be realistic we still need to use a mouse to do certain things, so have a go at using a vertical one instead. A vertical pen style mouse allows your arm and hand to lie in a much more natural position, whilst also taking the pressure away from your palm, using your fingers to control it instead.

I Already Have RSI, Can I Do Anything To Help?

First and foremost get help! RSI is not going to go away by itself, so if you think you might have it or are experiencing any of the symptoms of it then the first step is to make a call to your GP. They will be able to assess you properly, prescribe anti-inflammatory painkillers and be able to refer you onto a specialist if they feel you need it.

Of course, looking at how you work, how you sit and how you perform daily tasks and actions, then reassessing and making changes will all help, but improvements are certainly not going to happen overnight. Most employers should have a good risk assessment procedure in place to check that your work area is ergonomic and suitable for your requirements, so make sure you ask about it if you haven’t already had an assessment. If you work from home, there is plenty of advice online, just make sure you only use reputable sites that have been backed up by fully trained professionals with the relevant qualifications.

Repetitive strain injury is a problem that won’t just go away, in fact unless you take steps to do something about it, it will continue to get worse to the point that it may be irreversible.


Do You Have RSI? How Do You Cope With It?

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