Repetitive strain injury (RSI)


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), repetitive strain injuries are the nation’s most common and costly occupational health problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of American workers,and costing more than $20 billion a year in workers compensation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly two-thirds of all occupational illnesses reported, were caused by exposure to repeated trauma to workers’ upper body (the wrist, elbow or shoulder). One common example of such an injury is carpal tunnel syndrome

Fine motor movements, repeated hour after hour, day after day, thousands upon thousands of times,
eventually strain the muscles and tendons causing microscopic tears. Injured muscles tend to contract, decreasing the range of motion necessary for stress free work. The sheaths that cover delicate tendons run out of lubrication because they aren’t given time to rest, so tendon and sheath chafe, resulting in pain. Repetitive strain injury can affect more than just your hands and wrists. Poor posture can lead to severe neck and back injuries. Staring at a computer screen can lead to eye strain. Repetitive reaching for a mouse can lead to arm and neck strain as well as spinal asymmetry.

The following are seen as causes of RSI:

  • The overuse of muscles in our hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck and back
  • The area is affected by repeated actions, which are usually performed on a daily basis over a long period
  • The repetitive actions are done in a cold place
  • The individual has to use vibrating equipment
  • Forceful movements are involved
  • Workstations are poorly organized
  • Equipment is badly designed
  • The individual commonly adopts an awkward posture
  • There are not enough rest breaks

The most common RSI signs and symptoms include:

  • Tenderness in the affected muscle or joint
  • Pain in the affected muscle or joint
  • A throbbing (pulsating) sensation in the affected area
  • Pins and needles (tingling)in the affected area, especially the hand or arm
  • Loss of sensation in the hand
  • Loss of strength in the hand
  • Weakness, lack of endurance

Ten easy ways to reduce your risk of developing RSI

  • TAKE BREAKS when using your computer. Every hour or so, get up and walk around, get a drink of water, stretch whatever muscles are tight, and look out the window at a far off object (torest your eyes). As explained in above.
  • Use good posture. If you can’t hold good posture, it probably means it’s time for you to take a break from typing. If you ar eperpetually struggling to maintain good posture, you probably need to adjust your workstation or chair, or develop some of the support muscles necessary for good posture.
  • Use an ergonomically optimized workstation to reduce strain on your body.
  • Exercise regularly. Include strengthening, stretching, and aerobic exercises. I find yoga and pilates especially helpful.
  • Only use the computer as much as you have to. Don’t email people when you could walk down the hall or pick up the phone and talk to them. It’s not only better for your hands – it’s friendlier. Think before you type to avoid unnecessary editing.
  • Don’t stretch for the hard-to-reach keys, e.g. BACKSPACE, ENTER, SHIFT, and CONTROL… Basically everything but the letters. Instead, move your entire hand so that you may press the desired key with ease. This is crucial when you are programming or typing something in, where non-letter keys are used extensively.
  • Let your hands fl oat above the keyboard when you type, and move your entire arm when moving your mouse or typing hard to- reach keys, keeping the wrist joint straight at all times. This lets the big muscles in your arm, shoulder, and back does most of the work, instead of the smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable muscles in your hand and wrist. If you find it difficult to do this, then your shoulder and back muscles are probably too weak. It is OK, and in fact a good idea, to rest your elbows/wrists when you are not typing.
  • Use two hands to type combination key strokes, such as those involving the SHIFT and CONTROL keys.
  • When writing, avoid gripping the writing utensil tightly. Someone should be able to easily pull the writing utensil out of your hand when you are writing. If your pen or pencil requires you to press too hard, get a new one (my favorite is Dr. Grip Gel Ink)
  • In general, your doctor/therapist should prescribe treatment that focuses on the cause of your symptoms, rather than the symptoms themselves. In other words, the treatment should not be focused on pain management, although that may be one aspect. Rather, it should be focused on correcting your posture, and improving your anatomical function, so that, with time, your body will heal itself.
  • Treatment should typically consist of visits to a physical therapist, coupled with a home exercise program. The focus of this program is to stretch overly tight muscles, and strengthen weak ones. Remember however, that no amount of physical therapy and strengthening/ stretching can overcome excessive typing, poor posture, a bad workstation, or poor typing technique


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