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How to Avoid Repetitive Strain Injuries at Work

How to Avoid Repetitive Strain Injuries at Work


Repetitive strain injury (RSI), also called work-related upper limb disorder (WRULD), is a general term used to describe the pain caused to muscles, nerves and tendons by repetitive movement and overuse. The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands, neck and shoulders.

RSI of the wrist can develop in any job that requires overusing the hands to perform a repetitive task. It is most commonly seen with prolonged typing, mousing or occasionally writing. Fine hand movements, repeated hour and hour, day after day without adequate breaks eventually mean the rate of wear of muscles and tendons of the wrist is greater than the rate of repair. This leads to inflammation, degeneration of tendons and sometimes microscopic tears of muscles and tendons. The resulting symptoms include: pain, stiffness, weakness, numbness and impaired motor control.

The main risk factors for developing a wrist RSI include:

  • Repetitive activities
  • Doing an activity for a long time without rest
  • Doing an activity that involves force, such as lifting heavy objects
  • Poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position
  • Poor technique
  • Cold temperatures
  • Stress
  • Use of vibrating equipment

Preventing the development of RSI, or relieving your symptoms, involves understanding and reviewing the lifestyle factors that cause RSI, including work, hobbies, general stress and posture.

Below are some ergonomic tips to pay attention to when using a computer:

  • Position yourself so that you hands hover over the keyboard, with elbows roughly at a right angle.
  • Keep your mouse as close to your side as possible, to avoid reaching and over-stretching to use it.
  • Keep your wrist flat when typing and keep your keyboard flat rather than tilted.
  • Avoid resting your wrists on the desk or on a cushioned wrist support when typing – this prevents excessive and continuous pressure on your carpal tunnel which contains multiple vessels, nerves and tendons.
  • Avoid straining and over-stretching your fingers to reach certain keys on the keyboard, move your whole hand as you type.
  • To avoid repetitive clicking of the mouse using the same 2 fingers, use keyboard shortcuts.
  • Try to use your whole arm to move the mouse rather than twisting your wrist from side to side.

Using a mouse can be even more harmful than typing. Here are three reasons why this is so:

  • All the work is done by one finger. Double clicking and dragging can be especially straining.
  • Modern windows-based machines rely heavily on the use of a mouse.
  • Users often do not position the mouse properly. Instead, they stretch for the mouse, which can lead to increased strain, a drooping shoulder, and pain extending up into the shoulder and neck.

There are a wide variety of ergonomic mouse and keyboards which can also assist in managing RSI by placing your hand and arm in a more suitable position and preventing overuse of one particular muscle group e.g wrist extensors. Examples of these include a penguin mouse and a sculpt ergonomic keyboard.

If you are experiencing symptoms of RSI or would like advice on how best to avoid developing a work related injury, please contact us here.

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