What is it?
Repetitive Strain Injuries occur when repeated physical movements are prolonged over a long period, ultimately causing damage to tendons, nerves, muscles, and other soft body tissues. Occupations ranging from musicians to hairdressers can have characteristic RSIs that can result from the repetitive nature of the tasks they perform. As more work, education and recreation involves computers, laptops tablets and mobile phones, there has been an epidemic of injuries of the hands, arms, shoulders, backs and neck's. Thousands of repeated keystrokes and long periods of clutching and dragging with the mouse can accumulate damage to the body, especially if we adopt a poor posture which can place unnecessary stress on the tendons and nerves in the hand, wrist, arms, and even the shoulders and neck. The amount of time we spend in one position, lack of adequate rest and breaks will invariably result in injury.
My personal experience of RSI began with a project that had a 3 month time frame, basically I was using the computer for 2 hours more per day than usual and not getting up from my desk as regularly as I normally did. The first sign of anything going amiss was aching in the wrist, then an occasional sharp pain. My thinking was, the project will be over in a couple of months and things will go back to normal, however the sharper pain came more often and my wrists and forearms were aching at night. This kept going on even after the project finished and got to the point where it was painful just to hold the steering wheel in the car.
I didn't want to go down the track of operations or injections, at the time there was not a huge amount of information available on how to deal with it, so here is what I did and it worked for me.
I did all of these simultaneously and they all aided my recovery in some way.
Myotherapy is a form of deep tissue massage for the treatment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal pain and associated conditions, I went along once, sometimes twice a week for 3 months to a good myotherapist (no longer practicing - she is a full time mum) which relieved the symptoms and eventually I was able to make that once a month and after 6 months stopped going altogether as I had pretty much recovered.
Taking breaks, I took a break for about a minute or 2 every 20 minutes to half an hour and did a number of exercises for the hands, wrists fingers etc - some of which can be found here: Office Stretch Exercises
Exercise - There is also a very good book which details these and many more exercises very well entitled Conquering Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, I must have ordered about 10 different books on RSI and this was by far the most useful and practical, in fact the only one I kept.
RSIGuard is a stretchbreak software that I also installed and used to ensure I took those regular breaks, this was an interesting experience. Logically this makes sense, you get a reminder to take a break and some exercise options pop up on screen. It was obvious that this was a good thing for my wellbeing, however there was a tendency to disregard "time to take a break" message and just finish off the current thing I was working on. It took quite a bit of willpower to overcome this tendency and actually take the mini breaks, which ultimately proved very beneficial.
Mouse - The other item that proved a life saver was the 3M ergonomic Mouse, it was the only vertical mouse available at the time, now there are many and the best amongst them is the Evoluent vertical mouse. Vertical mice take the strain off the wrist by putting your hand in a natural handshake position.
The symptoms can include any of the following: Tightness, discomfort, stiffness, soreness, burning, tingling, coldness or numbness, as well as feeling a need to massage your hands, wrists and arms
Prevention and Recovery
Good work habits which include correct typing technique and posture as well as the right equipment is essential in any prevention setup. Hold the mouse lightly, don't grip it hard or squeeze it, use a light touch on the keyboard, don't hammer those keys. Take lots of regular breaks away from your computer, and be aware of what your body is telling you. Ergonomics Now offers trainings and courses specifically addressing these issues see Ergonomic Assessments page.
Also check out our Workspace Set Up page
From the BBC - Health
"As many of us spend more and more time in front of computers, the chances of developing repetitive strain injury (RSI) increase. For some people, the pain of RSI is so great that it prevents them from working at all. However, it doesn't develop overnight, so by always remembering that prevention is better than a cure, problems can often be avoided in the first place."