The many forms of RSI

Speedcubing - a potential cause for RSIIn this blog, I have focused substantially on RSIs associated with computer and mobile device usage, specifically wrist and arm injuries. Of course, there are many other types of injury that can result from occupational overuse, whether you are a programmer, a checkout assistant or a chainsaw operator. Injuries are not confined to work of course, but can also result from leisure pursuits such as piano playing, golf, tennis, running or even Rubik’s cubing! Examples of the types of conditions that can be caused by such activities are: tennis and golfer’s elbow, thoracic outlet syndrome, De Quervain syndrome, as well as the more classic carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome.

Repetitive activities, including computer use, can adversely affect more than just the wrist, hands and arms, but also the neck and shoulders. Some years ago, my wife developed a constant and debilitating shoulder problem on her right side. At the end of each day in the office, her shoulder would ache such that the muscles would feel as if they were exhausted. Being right-handed, the most obvious association was with her computer mouse, yet it was apparent that this type of large-muscle ache would most probably not be addressed by using a different, more ergonomic mouse. It wasn’t until she moved jobs and her new desk included a drop down keyboard and mouse tray that the shoulder injury disappeared. Simply lowering the mouse pad had solved the problem. Even today, should she momentarily use a laptop and external mouse on a table top, for example, the shoulder issue will recur.

In addition, the range of occupations potentially affected by RSIs is wide. On several occasions now, I have encountered checkout cashiers wearing tell-tale arm braces which I instantly recognise  as probably indicating an RSI. I have chatted to such individuals and, indeed, they inform me that the repetitive motion of swiping products in front of the barcode scanner has caused their injury. I have recently heard of a tree surgeon having to scale back workload due to pain in his arms from the constant overhead operation of a chainsaw.

Examples of occupations at high risk of RSIs include:

  • Journalists, programmers, software engineers – anyone using a computer to do their job
  • Construction workers
  • Checkout cashiers
  • Production assembly line workers
  • Machine operators
  • Postal sorting workers

Sometimes it is not necessarily repetitive motion that is at fault, but holding the same position for hours on end. For example, many neck problems develop after possibly years of bad posture and/or inadequate breaks whilst staring at a computer screen, or performing any occupation that involves looking downwards (eg a jeweller). Even sleeping is not without hazard, if you are in the habit of lying on your front with your head to one side for example.

Of course, the key words here include “repetitive”, “overuse” and “habit”. The same principles apply in addressing these conditions:

  • Awareness
  • Good ergonomics
  • Adaptive software or hardware (this can include anything from computer mice to chairs to running shoes!)
  • Adequate breaks
  • Improvement of posture
  • Therapeutic exercise such as yoga, pilates etc
  • Avoidance, if necessary

So, regardless of whether you are at work or play, upon experiencing the first twinges of pain, it is time to become aware of the cause and to address them accordingly. The choice is yours – you can make the necessary adjustments to your work or leisure habits now, or be forced to give them up entirely later.

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