By Rick Halle-Podell, Licensed Massage Therapist, Founder of Massage Therapy of Oak Park
Painful tendons, nerves and muscles in the hands, arms, shoulders and neck are an unfortunate byproduct of the computer age. Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) describe problems caused by repeated on-the-job movements. Because they develop slowly over time, RSIs are different than sprains or strains, which are sharp and occur immediately.
What You’re Doing Right Now Is a Common Source of Repetitive Stress Injuries
Some estimates indicate that of all the people who regularly use computers, nearly one-third will eventually experience RSI symptoms. The explosive growth of RSI is the result of more people using computers combined with poor typing techniques.
High-speed typing is the primary cause of soft tissue injury. When you add poor positioning of the fingers, wrists, hands, arms and posture along with sitting for long periods of time, you have the perfect scenario for RSI. If you use a computer mouse or other kinds of pointing devices, you might not only suffer RSI in your hands and arms, but it may also affect your shoulders, neck and back.
Preventing Repetitive Stress Injury
Ergonomics—the study of equipments design to reduce operator fatigue and discomfort—is the key to preventing RSI. Companies such as Microsoft have responded to the dramatic increase in RSI with ergonomic computer keyboards and mice. Designed to reduce pressure in a user’s hands and wrists, ergonomic keyboards break the traditional keyboard in half, angling the keys on each side to match the hands’ natural positions. New trackballs are easier on the hand. And, by limiting the number of repetitive tasks such as double clicking, ergonomic mice help prevent RSI to hands, fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.
Though ergonomic designs attempt to meet the challenge of RSI, they may not be a cure-all. According to a Chicago Sun-Times article, “there’s little consensus as to whether the new ergonomic designs alleviate strain-related injuries” and that “in many instances (designers) are changing the place where the user will feel the pain, but not eliminating the pain.”
Perhaps today’s ergonomic designs (and those to come) will reduce the RSI problem. However, if computer users don’t improve posture, practice correct typing techniques and adjust their chairs and desks to proper height, the incidence of RSI will continue to grow. Once a person begins to suffer from RSI, changing one part of his/her environment without examining the others could make the problem worse. It may simply come down to trial and error. Learn to listen to you body!
- Back rest at 100° angle
- Inward curve of spine in the lower back
- Vertical upper arm
- Viewing angle: 10–15°
- Viewing distance: 24″–27″
- Screen angle: 10–15°
- Elbow: 90° angle
- Wrists: straight
- Feet flat on the floor or on a footrest
- No pressure against the upper leg near seat edge
Coping With a Repetitive Stress Injury
If you develop RSI, and your company seems insensitive to your problem, take the opportunity to educate yourself and company officials. If your efforts don’t provide relief or generate the support you’d like, try some of the following at the end of the day to prevent RSI:
- Learn correct typing techniques
- Maintain good posture and avoid reaching
- Use your arms to move your hands while typing
- Do not stretch or bend your wrists
- Align your fingers with your forearms
- Take frequent breaks—at least one break an hour
- Stretch and relax
- Use the computer only when necessary
- Use ice if you have pain at the end of the day
- Gently move hands through their full range of motion
- Integrate massage therapy into a prevention program