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Managing RSI at work

Aug 31, 2021

Repetitive Strain Injury, or RSI, is a commonly known term. For anyone who doesn’t know or who only has a vague idea of what it means, RSI is the term most commonly used to describe the problems that result from prolonged repetitive activity or movement and over use. RSI is something most people associate with work, and is thus unsurprisingly also often called Work-Related Upper Limb Disorder, or Non-Specific Upper Limb Pain. Most commonly it affects the forearms and elbows, wrists and hands, or the neck and shoulders.

Pain often starts slowly but can quickly take on a life of it’s own if the sufferer tries to power through rather than address the issue. So how do you avoid this? How do you deal with RSI when you can’t simply walk away from the problem because of work?

Don’t Ignore It

Many people have a habit of just pushing through the pain, toughing it out rather than dealing with it because we are too busy. The most common reaction is to push through the pain whilst at work because when you’re not at work it doesn’t hurt. But the problem is that we spend 1/3 of our life at work, and ignoring it only makes the problem worse.

As soon as you notice symptoms you should try and address them, even if it’s simply by taking short breaks, doing some stretching or checking the ergonomics at your work station. The sooner you intervene the better chance you have of preventing the pain from progressing.

Use Both Hands

Often the cause of RSI for those who work in an office is improper typing. This means however that it’s fairly simple to prevent. Using both hands ensures that you are not overstretching your fingers and hands, or contorting them into odd positions to try and reach multiple keys at once. This is common when we are on the phone and trying desperately to multitask, holding the phone with one hand and trying to type with the other. Proper typing with both hands prevents you from putting your hands and wrists in unnatural positions which in turn can cause a lot of pain. Further more something as simple as using a headset when on the phone makes both hands free to type when you’re taking calls.

Get Up and Move About

Making sure you stay mobile whilst at work can be difficult especially if you work in an office. Getting up to stretch quickly every half hour or so can go a long way to helping relieve some of the tensions and stress that builds up in our muscles when we spend long hours sitting in the same positions doing the same thing over and over. Stretching out our necks and shoulders also has positive effects on our hands and wrists, as nerves and muscles can get trapped in the neck which cause pain to radiate down the arms, or even cause headaches.

A good habit to get into is to time how long you can work for before the onset of symptoms. Once you know how long you can go for before things start to hurt, you can set a timer to go off ten minutes before that limit to remind you to stretch before things start to get stiff or sore.

It’s All About Posture

Preventing RSI is all about having good posture and positioning. This doesn’t just mean how you position your hands when you type, as the causes of pain are much more widespread than this. How you hold your shoulders affects everything from how frequently you get headaches, to whether or not you get numbness in your fingers. It may seem obvious but many people are stretching too far in order to reach their keyboard, or spending too much time looking down at their screen. Your keyboard should be within reach without having to stretch too far, and the top of your screen should be just at eye level. This prevents you from overstretching your muscles and causing pain.

Preventing RSI is all about making small changes to the way you work and your work set up. Though they may seem small, they can make all the difference in preventing a small annoyance becoming a huge problem.

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