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.
Initial Symptoms of a computer (over)use RSI condition
Initial RSI symptoms can be varied, this is because RSI is a collective term for a number of different musculoskeletal conditions.
Symptoms can include (but are not limited to) the following –
- tingling/numbness in back of fingers, thumb, hands
- sore (fatigued) arm muscles including upper forearm
- sharp pains in joints or wrists
- sore shoulder /neck
- coldness of hands
- loss of strength in hands/arms
- abnormal swelling on parts of the arms and hands
What to do?
The first thing to remember is don’t panic. The fact that you have diagnosed a problem at this early stage is a good thing. You have a great chance, with a little research and modifications to lifestyle, to get rid of these symptoms. The following are general recommendations to counteract initial RSI symptoms –
- Stop doing the task that is causing you to experience the symptoms (remember, the symptoms you are experiencing are your body’s way of sending a signal that something that you are doing is wrong and letting you know that you need to do the task differently or make adjustments to your working practice)
- Research and analyse specifically what is causing the symptoms to occur
- Go on a ergonomics awareness course
- Obtain an assessment by a professional ergonomist who will advise you about posture, techniques of correcting bad posture, and the possibility of a change in equipment (eg chair, desk, keyboard height etc)
- Listen to what the ergonomist says and try to implement any changes they recommend
- Maximise rest time away from the keyboard (avoid surfing during break time, eliminate home computer use etc)
- Keep in mind that this period of time is the best stage to stop the injury worsening, so it’s also the best time to rest too!
- Consult your doctor or company doctor about the symptoms
- Try to make changes to your working practice or daily life to reduce exposure to other computer/keypad/mouse devices including laptops, organisers and texting on mobile phones etc
- Take frequent rest breaks when you have to use a computer
- Keep well hydrated
- Consider physical therapy
- Develop a habit of doing stretching exercises on the affected limbs (consult a physiotherapist for recommendations)
- Consider a low impact physical fitness program like swimming, yoga, tai chi
- Don’t take painkillers and continue to work as before. Painkillers will just mask the symptoms (pain) whilst allowing you to continue to worsen the problem and can lead to further injury!
The key to dealing with initial RSI symptoms is don’t ignore them however slight they are. Even slight pain is your body’s way of telling you that you are not doing something correctly, and that you urgently need to make changes to your working practice before the symptoms get worse.
In Part 2 I discuss dealing with progressive, lingering RSI symptoms.
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