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  Is Your Computer Hurting You?
Tips for reducing RSI

by Tina Morgan


What is RSI and should you be concerned about it?

RSI stands for Repetitive Strain Injury (or cumulative trauma disorder). Repetitive motions, excessive force and/or extreme motions can stress soft-tissue resulting in tiny tears in muscles and tendons which leads to irritation, inflammation and reduced circulation.  Severe cases can cause permanent tissue damage and disability.

It can be caused by a variety of activities but writers are at high risk for it because of the number of hours we spend typing on our keyboards every day.

Symptoms of RSI:

Tightness, pain, burning, stiffness,  or swelling in the hands, wrists which may or may not extend to the elbows, shoulders, neck and/or back

*   Coldness, numbness or tingling in the hands and fingers

*   Loss of strength, coordination or clumsiness in the hands

*   Pain that wakes you up at night

*   A strong impulse to massage your hands, wrists, and/or elbows

*   The symptoms may fade or improve when the activity or task is stopped.

 Symptoms may spread through various body parts. Starting with a stiff neck or numb fingers and moving up or down through the extremities. Stiffness and pain in the limbs and hands may be prominent in the mornings as well.

Like computer eye strain, the symptoms of RSI can be prevented or lessened. Keep in mind that RSI is far easier to prevent than to cure.

Check the position of your workspace.
             Are you sitting too high? Too low?
             Does your chair provide adequate back support?
             Can you see the screen without leaning forward?
             Can you adjust the level of your armrests so you can maintain a
                  neutral position?

Improving your posture is a major component in preventing RSI.
             Thighs and forearms should be horizontal with the floor or slightly down
                      and away from the body.
             Wrists should be straight  and level.
             Back straight and no slouching.
             Do not rest your wrists on anything while you're typing. Resting your
                 wrists causes you to stretch your fingers into awkward positions to reach
                 the keys. However, when not typing, allow your wrists and hands to rest
                 either on your lap and/or on their sides instead of keeping your fingers
                 stretched over the keyboard.

1)  Taking a one minute break every 20 minutes or at least 5 minutes ever hour can help reduce the strain on your body. This is recommended for RSI and computer related eye strain.

2)  Do not grip your mouse tightly. Even track balls can cause injuries. Keep your mouse as close to your keyboard as possible so you're not reaching or putting your neck, arms or shoulders in an awkward position.

3) If you're already spending hours a day working at a computer, consider reducing your recreational computer usage. Email may be simple and inexpensive, but if you're already suffering from RSI, you may want to consider replacing some of those emails with phone calls. Computer games typically involve long periods of time in intense concentration and tense keyboard or controller usage. While these games are a lot of fun, you may have to weigh the enjoyment of the game against your health. You health should come first.

4) Consider voice recognition software. It's not a cure all but it can help reduce the amount of typing you do each day.

5)  Stress is a major contributing factor to RSI. Learning relaxation techniques will improve your health in many areas and not just with repetitive strain injuries. Yoga combines stretching with relaxation and is an excellent way to improve your posture.

6)  Exercise. Not only will it help you maintain a healthy weight but it will loosen and stretch muscles that have become tense from sitting over your computer all day.

7)  Do NOT cradle the phone between your shoulder and ear. This twists your neck and spine and can quickly cause serious problems. Many stores carry headsets for the phone that make it possible to use the phone practically hands free.  

8)  Pay attention to what your body is telling you. A little twinge here and there is your body's way of trying to let you know something is wrong. Don't ignore the little pains, they can grow into serious, life long disabilities.

9)  What other activities are you engaging in that may be contributing to your symptoms? Keep in mind that sports, hobbies and mundane tasks like vacuuming can exacerbate RSI symptoms. Unfortunately some of the things we enjoy most can cause more pain. Many writers are also avid readers but holding a paperback novel in one hand for hours at a time can put undue stress on your tendons and muscles.

10) Braces can help. So can ergonomic keyboards and desk chairs, but nothing can replace common sense. It does no good to use an ergonomic keyboard if your monitor is so far away you have to hunch forward to read the print.

Below are several helpful links over RSI, how to prevent it, how to lessen the symptoms and exercises that can help you feel better quickly.


Repetitive strain injury

List of links over RSI and adaptive equipment and software



newsletter with archives that can be viewed on site

exercises for helping prevent RSI

  Copyright 2004 Tina Morgan


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