Career commentary Ergonomics Lifestyle RSI

Are you at risk of developing RSI?

questionmedBelow, I provide a list of criteria that I would associate with a worker who will have an elevated risk of contracting an RSI condition. If you associate with a few of these activities, then you too may be at high risk of developing a RSI condition –

  • Computer operator professional or otherwise
  • Deep in concentration about your work, intolerant of interruptions
  • You slouch at your desk, peering at the computer screen, unaware of your posture
  • Working on a key project with tight deadline
  • Stressing about achieving that deadline
  • Working in a competitive environment in uncertain times
  • Spending your work time at a computer for 5-10 hours a day
  • Taking minimal breaks, and most of these are spent checking email /surfing the web
  • Lunch is frequently a sandwich eaten at your desk whilst working
  • You are a heavy coffee drinker
  • You spend a cumulative 30 min/day sending text messages on your mobile phone
  • You go home after a 10 hour day and relax by ripping some CDs to mp3, updating your iPod, catching up on personal email and unwinding by playing a ‘shoot ’em up’ on your computer/games system for 2-3 hours
  • You spends 6-8 hours sleeping before starting the cycle again

Lets break down each point and try to inject some solutions –

commentary Ergonomics RSI

RSI – Mouse use biting people

An excellent RSI article has appeared on BBC News technology section title “The mouse is biting some PC users“. The article quite concisely summarises the main issues at hand (no pun intended) with RSI.

The article indicates that RSI is part of an ever increasing phenomena affecting 115,000 workers last year a staggering 34% increase from the previous year. If ever we needed evidence that RSI is reaching epidemic levels, then this is it.

It also contains a quote from Pauline Cole (a spokesperson for the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE))

“A lot of people are using computers more, even in jobs you wouldn’t traditionally expect it”.

This is the trouble with RSI conditions. Just about every job these days requires interaction with computers, and this can present major challenges when a worker is affected with RSI, there are few options out there to allow them to work whilst avoiding computer use and allowing their bodies to recover, except for perhaps manual labour.

In another revealing quote from the article, this time from Bunny Martin (who runs charity Body Action Campaign)

“schools tend to have a single standard computer set-up for nine and 15-year-olds alike.”, and alarmingly she notes that “around 60% of children she meets have first symptoms of RSI, including strain-related pain in the neck and shoulders.”

This is a staggering fact and if RSI is impacting children years before they start looking for employment then we truly are sitting on a RSI health time bomb.

All in all an excellent summary article on where we are at with RSI.

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Ergonomics Input Devices

Computers Controlled by Gesture

In an interesting video clip from the BBC’s ‘Click’ programme called ‘Computers Controlled by Gesture’, there is a summary of current developments in the world of human gesture control as an input device. It brings back memories of Tom Cruise in “Minority Report“.

Whether this form of computer input technology will ever see serious light of day or not, or whether it will replace the keyboard and mouse, is anyone’s guess, but it is interesting to see trends in technology moving away from using the standard devices (although it is hinted that currently there is no good replacement for a keyboard for text entry).

Whether this technology can save us from RSI related injuries is open to debate; it may well transpire that they just mean we are susceptible to different types of injuries, but it is a good sign that developers are at least rethinking the now traditional methods of interacting with computers. It could lead to opportunities in computer use for people with all kinds of different disabilities, and not just RSI.

Is this the start of a new age in ergonomics, or is it just the latest phase of hi-tech gimmickry ?

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Ergonomics RSI Tips

Forearm extensor muscles, wrist position and RSI

When you position your hands at a keyboard as discussed in an earlier article referring to ‘typing with clawed hands’, bad positioning of the wrist can lead to overuse injuries caused by strain in your forearm extensor muscles.

clawed_hands_rsi_sm.jpgThe common position for hands hovering above a keyboard is as shown on the right, which I refer to as the ‘claw’. This position elevates the tension in the aforementioned extensor muscles, causing them to become fatigued over prolonged periods of time. Typing whilst the hand/wrists are in this position (another common posture mistake) will further

Career Ergonomics RSI Tips

RSI – What to do? (Part 3 – RSI Dealing With A Long Term Condition)

The following article is a follow-on from RSI – What to do? (Part 1 – RSI Initial Symptoms) and RSI – What to do? (Part 2 – RSI Dealing With Progressive Symptoms) .

OK, so you are experiencing a long term RSI condition, ie it has gradually worsened for more than 2 years. You are in continual pain at work and find it difficult to do your job. You have perhaps gone through consultations with ergonomists, doctors, physiotherapists and just about anybody who’ll listen, but still you find no relief. You struggle to remember what it felt like not to associate pain with computer use. You may be wearing an arm brace (and probably have a large collection of them by now), and you probably have a sizeable collection of strange ergonomic mice at your computer that don’t seem to help. Your employer keeps expecting the same work output from you and you stress about how you can get through it. You get by by doing what you can, but generally come home each night from work and feel anxious about the situation and the searing pain down your arms. You wonder what you can do, and how you are supposed to live a normal life – you can’t remember what normal life was like before this injury!

So what are the options then? Well I remember a great bit of advice from my father

Ergonomics RSI

My own RSI pain experience

My own experience with RSI pain is that it sets in fairly quickly (over a period of 6 months to 1 year) from the start with mild tingling over the right and left hands/forefingers to more full-blown pain. I had been working extensively doing Computer Aided Design work and producing large quantities of documentation. In the image below, the red areas indicate the main areas where I experienced most of my RSI pain.

rsi arm pain

The areas of pain included –

  • Acute pain over right index and middle fingers
  • Pain over backs of hands
  • Acute pain right wrist
  • Acute pain over outer edge of right thumb
  • Right upper forearm extensor pain
  • Finger joint pain when typing
  • Similar story with left arm (less intense, but I am right handed)

Each separate area of pain could be attributable to a certain cause, and sometimes one symptom would

Ergonomics Miscellaneous RSI

RSI, Mind over Matter?

mind over matterDuring the course of my injury, I have frequently encountered opinions and references to RSI injuries being “all in the mind” (a reference to the sufferer somehow psychologically inducing RSI pain rather than there being an actual physical cause).

Addressing this idea seems to have worked for some people. Other people see the condition as solely a physical disability and treat it as such. I however prefer to believe that it is more than likely a merging of the two in a pain cycle that contributes to the worsening of such injuries.

The following is a list some of the physical and psychological factors with RSI injuries –

Ergonomics RSI Tips

RSI – What to do? (Part 2 – RSI Dealing With Progressive Symptoms)

This is a follow on article from Part 1 which dealt with managing Initial RSI Symptoms.

The following is relevant if you have been experiencing RSI symptoms for a few months and they are now persistent in nature.

wrist_pain.jpgThe rate of success in dealing with RSI symptoms is proportional to the speed that a sufferer can diagnose the causes of those symptoms, and their understanding of the corrective actions required to avoid further injury.

The onset time for RSI injuries can be fairly rapid (in my own case I went from having initial symptoms to intermediate symptoms within 3 to 4 months. It is therefore vital that sufferers glean RSI knowledge as fast as possible, try to understand the causes of their symptoms, and make the necessary adjustments to their working practices.

So the scenario for this article is of a worker who has had RSI symptoms for a few months, and is experiencing any of the following –

Ergonomics Miscellaneous RSI

RSI – will workers ever listen?

RSI is in the news again today with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy calling for employers to take RSI injuries more seriously. Among their recommendations are – regular breaks for workers, access to Occupational Health Specialists, and risk assessments for employees. All of these suggestions are great, and need to be seriously looked at since there appears to be a spiraling in the numbers of cases of RSI injuries. In the same article, according to the Health and Safety Executive, there were 115,00 new cases of RSI reported in the UK alone last year.

Coming from an office environment with a large employer, I have witnessed first hand how difficult it is to educate a workforce in the dangers of using a computer. Employers can spend vast sums of money on employee ergonomic education and can still make little impact on workers’ perceptions on computer use.

Ergonomics RSI Tips

RSI – What to do? (Part 1 – RSI Initial Symptoms)

It can be a very confusing time for a computer user when they first experience RSI symptoms. The symptoms can often develop after a protracted period of intensified work, which may be ongoing. Initial injury symptoms can be very mild and will more than likely be ignored by the worker who will continue to work through them. This may be because the worker feels that the symptoms are very slight, and are manageable, or they may simply be confused about what those symptoms are. At this stage it is highly likely that the worker will not consult anyone about their symptoms eg an ergonomist, a company doctor, GP etc, and will more often than not want to avoid exposing their problem (however small) to their employer.

The danger with this is that, if symptoms are left unchecked, it can lead to their rapid worsening and the long march to a more debilitating (and difficult to treat) condition.

This need not be the case. There is a lot you can do at this early stage of RSI symptoms to help yourself.