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 –

  • wrist, arm, hand, finger, wrists, shoulders, neck pain
  • numbness of fingers, back of hands, wrists, thumbs
  • swelling of arm, hand tissues

on a regular basis and predominantly after working with computers. Typically, you may be regularly coming home after a day at work, with one or more of the above symptoms. You may or may not have reported the injury to your employer, and you may or may not have consulted a your doctor about your symptoms. You may also have decided to keep the injury to yourself in the hope that it would go away, and that you would not have to disclose it to your employer.

The danger to you at this stage is that by letting the condition(s) go unchecked for a few months you have made the RSI injury more difficult to get rid of. However there is still hope that your condition can be diagnosed, addressed, relieved, and ultimately cured. It may however involve making several radical adjustments in your life.

You have to continue to believe that there is still a lot you can do to help yourself.

Progressive Symptoms of a computer (over)use RSI condition

Progressive RSI symptoms can be varied, this is because RSI is a collective term for a number of different musculoskeletal conditions.

Progressive symptoms will be similar to those described in the Initial Symptoms Article but will be more persistent in nature ie. you may be coming home every night after work and experiencing some of 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?

Since you have been experiencing RSI symptoms for a while, you need to try to urgently diagnose the mechanisms causing your pain to occur before they get more permanent, and try to make the adjustments to your working practice to reduce or eliminate the factors that are causing you pain. You still have a great chance to get rid of these symptoms with a little research and modifications to lifestyle, but it will take a more dedicated effort on your part to make those changes happen.

The following are some general recommendations to counteract progressing RSI symptoms –

  • Follow through on the recommendations in my Initial Symptoms Article
  • If you havn’t done so already , alert your own doctor, employer and company doctor about your symptoms,
    take on board any recommendations and if they advise you to take time off work to rest, do so.
  • If you havn’t done so already, get an ergonomic consultation (it’s never too late for one of these), and listen to everything that the Ergonomist recommends and try to adjust your practices accordingly. This may mean changes to your desk, chair, keyboard, mouse/input device, or adjustments of your posture or other working practices.
  • read up on some common causes of RSI conditions such as my articles on typing with clawed hands, and lateral wrist deviation, and work had to eliminate these bad habits from your working practice.
  • consider using different input devices. At this stage, you need to be trying out a variety of them to find out which ones are less uncomfortable for you to use.
  • Try click generating software (if your injury is mouse use related)
  • Cut down on mouse usage by learning keyboard shortcuts for your O/S or software package
  • Try voice recognition software if you type a lot of text documents.
  • You need to eliminate all non-essential interaction with computers and computer like devices including organisers and mobile phone messaging.
  • Eliminate or severely restrict use of home computers.
  • Eliminate all video game use including games consoles.
  • If you have a hobby that aggrivates an RSI eg Piano playing, reduce practice for a while to help your RSI heal.
  • You must take up a physical pastime that exercises your musculoskeletal structure in a fluid, healthy way. I would recommend anything that gets you away from a desk/chair and doing non-stress movements. Swimming is an ideal low impact fluid motion activity. Try looking into Yoga, it has a very good fluid movements/methods for stretching muscles and tendons in a healthy way, whilst promoting relaxation (it also actually can get you fit, and no, it’s not just for girls!). Physical pastimes are also very good for getting your mind ‘into the moment’ of what you are doing (the physical exercise) and away from stressful every day factors (work, injury symptoms, other problems in life etc), and can help break the negative thought cycle that can accompany persistent injuries. Other sporting activities can be good, but they should be avoided if they worsen your symptoms. Physical pastimes are also good for getting blood circulating around your body, and blood circulation helps heal fatigued muscle tissue.
  • If you are still working on a computer you should be taking a minimum of 5 minutes rest and stretch breaks every 30 minutes, even if your symptoms start to feel better. Install a take a break reminder to remind yourself to take breaks. Get up and walk around for a break, don’t take a break surfing the web!
  • Take all company allowed breaks including tea and lunch breaks. If you work in an office, leave your desk. If you have hour long lunch breaks, get away from the office environment completely.
  • Research and obtain a good stretching routine, to stretch out muscles of the forearms, upper arms, shoulder and neck, as well as the wrist and hand tendons. Consult a Physiotherapist for the best stretches for your condition.
  • Use pain reduction techniques, like hot/cold contrast baths, physical therapy (ultrasound, massage etc), TENS machine, or a hand held heat massager.
  • Keep hydrated.
  • Adopt a healthy diet.
  • Take measures to de-stress your life
  • Consider getting your back structure analysed by a Chiropractor or Osteopath for potential problems.
  • Research your problem extensively, learn as much as you can, and consult as many doctors, physiotherapists and specialists as you can. Knowledge about these conditions can vary widely in the medical community.
  • Find out fellow sufferers though internet forums, or even your own workplace to share learnings. It is often very beneficial to learn from what other sufferers have gone through.
  • 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 worsening of your injury!

Keep in mind that very rarely is there a ‘magic bullet’ fix for RSI type conditions. Usually, a combination of factors have lead you to experience RSI pain, and it is up to you use every resource that you can to identify as many of these as possible, make changes to your lifestyle and work practices that can reduce and ultimately eliminate your RSI symptoms.

By this time you should need no further motivation to address your RSI symptoms. The main driving factor now being to avoid your injury worsening and potentially becoming a permanent disability (like mine has), which can ultimately have disastrous consequences to your career!

In Part 3 I discuss dealing with a long term (2 years or more) RSI condition.

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