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 –

  • Computer operator professional or otherwise
    Can’t change a lot here (short of changing careers!)
  • Deep in concentration about your work, intolerant of interruptions
    I’m not suggesting that you should not be concentrating on your work, but you need to recognise that interruptions, including going for breaks, are very important to your wellbeing!
  • You slouch at your desk, peering at the computer screen, unaware of your posture
    Posture is not always an easy thing to correct since you often feel comfortable slouching, however slouching is often  having an adverse impact on your muscles, tendons and nerves. Good ergonomics is key and you need to pay attention to them. If you are working for a company with an Ergonomist, listen to what they have to say and make those changes.
  • Working on a key project with tight deadline
    Again not a whole lot you can do to change this, but try to understand that your current project, future projects, and your entire workload could be put at risk if you develop a RSI condition. It is in the interests of both you and your employer to keep you healthy both now and in the future. This fact is often lost in the everyday hectic business environment.
  • Stresses about achieving that deadline
    Stressing about a variety of things in life is part of human nature. However, you are not likely to improve either your work output or your health by stressing over a work related task or deadline. Your muscles will tighten up, and cause tension in much of your body which can exacerbate RSI conditions. As a result, it is important to reduce this tension. Short ‘sanity’ breaks as well as taking lunch and tea breaks can help act as stress busters. For more mental relaxation try taking up yoga and/or meditation, or perhaps some other physical pastime.
  • You are working in a competitive environment in uncertain times
    Once more not much you can do here unless you want a career change. Just remember that you are far more valuable to your employer as healthy worker. Pacing yourself, but being a dependable, reliable worker is key here. Blasting through your work at break-neck speed may make you look like a superstar, but is not sustainable, and may lead to even more work/pressure/expectation, at detriment to your health.
  • You are spending your work time at a computer for 5-10 hours a day
    This is something you can reduce, and need to do so dramatically if you are hitting these types of hours per day at a computer. You can do this by introducing break timers to your computer, and making sure you take ‘micro’ breaks throughout the day. At least one 5 minute ‘micro’ break every hour is ideal. You also need to adhere to official break times even if you don’t feel like taking them.
  • You are taking minimal breaks, and most of these are spent checking email/surfing the web
    If you are spending break time checking email and surfing the internet, then this isn’t a physical break. Your body won’t thank you for this type of rest.
  • Lunch is frequently a sandwich eaten at your desk whilst working
    Many people skip lunch breaks. This may be due to workload, social reasons or perhaps just to free up time to do email. However, by making the choice to stay at your desk, you are not letting your body get the physical break that it requires when using a computer all day. Even if you set out with the best of intentions, eg reading a book or newspaper, you are likely to get interrupted by fellow workers or the telephone, and end up jumping back on to the computer as a result. It is always best to ensure that all breaks are taken away from your desk.
  • You are a heavy coffee drinker
    Caffeine is a diuretic, and as such will cause you to lack hydration which is what sore, tight muscles need to heal. Better off switching to water.
  • You spend a cumulative 30min per day sending text messages on your mobile phone
    This is an activity that has to be reduced by everyone. Texting is repetitive in nature and can increase the small repetitive motions in your thumbs and fingers. All these small clicks will add to an already heavy arm/hand workload, and should be avoided as much as possible.
  • 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
    If you have a career using a computer then you seriously do not want to be using them after work for relaxation purposes. If you do, you will just be adding more risk to your already high RSI risk lifestyle. Computers at home are seldom set up ergonomically and are often located in decidedly tight, unergonomic spaces. All computer/gaming/gadget use at home should be severely restricted or eliminated if you work with computers during the day.
  • You spend 6-8 hours sleeping before starting the cycle again
    If sleeping is the only time that you are not interacting with a computer, mobile phone, handheld or other gadget, then I’m surprised if you don’t have an RSI condition already! Resting your body is not something that needs to happen only when you sleep. Resting from computers isn’t necessarily all about sitting, sleeping etc,  it can take the form of some other physical activity eg swimming, cycling etc, where you start to get blood flowing around your body which will promote healing of tight, damaged and stressed muscles.

You don’t need to meet all of my listed risk criteria to be at risk of developing RSI. The key is to recognise where in your life you can see similarities with the criteria, accept that you may be putting yourself at risk, and make some lifestyle adjustments accordingly to minimise those risks.

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