Brilliant funny video from Fog and Smog films, but with a serious message for us RSI sufferers!
In an article entitled “Forty-five per cent of workers have suffered from RSI” published in siliconrepublic.com. There is a reference to a survey –
” … by IrishJobs.ie, Enable Ireland and Assistive Technology Training specialists asked more than 1,000 employees about how comfortable they were as they work.”
OK, this was a smallish survey of 1000 employed individuals in Ireland, but perhaps it provides a glimpse into how widespread Repetitive Strain Injuries actually are in the workplace. The findings showed that –
“… workers now typically spend from two to more than six hours seated at work, typing at the computer or on the phone. Of the 45pc who have experienced RSI symptoms, the back was the most affected area, followed by the neck, wrist and hand. Arms and shoulders were also seen as problem areas. More than half of survey respondents said they only suffered from mild discomfort, but 44pc said it was painful enough for them to be aware of it. Four per cent described their RSI symptoms as “extremely painful.” ”
I have suspected for a long time that a larger percentage of workers than officially register an RSI do actually suffer from mild forms of RSI quite frequently. They are, however, perhaps just trying to deal with the symptoms themselves and are reluctant to appear like they are complaining to their employers about anything that may impact their job security or the perception of their ability to work.
Note: Despite searching for the actual survey results from Enable Ireland, I can’t find an original source for it. If anyone has a link, please drop me a comment.
I did however come across this very useful looking document titled “A Tool For Everyone” about RSI for employers and managers on Enable Ireland website, which does reference a 45 percent figure, just not the survey I was looking for!
Several news articles yesterday referenced the findings by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which show that, “… stress has become the main cause of long-term sickness absence for the first time across the British workforce”. Two main articles appear in The Telegraph as well as The Guardian. The Guardian article states:
“Worries about job losses have helped stress become the most common cause of long-term sick leave in Britain, according to a report that underlines the pressures on workers in a deteriorating labour market.
Stress has overtaken other reasons for long-term absence such as repetitive strain injury and medical conditions such as cancer.”
The article continues:
“The report highlights the strong links between job security and stress levels, with employers that are planning redundancies most likely to see a rise in mental health problems among staff.”
This is certainly to be expected given the current challenging economic times that we live in. I think the main disconnect in these articles about stress is that they infer that stress is a condition on its own, when stress in actual fact can lead to people being more susceptible to injuries and illnesses including Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) and many other health related conditions and, as such, we may not really have seen the full impact of stress on the British workforce.
Indeed I said as much in my article (from Dec. 2008) about it in the last major economic downturn in 2008 titled “RSI potential in these stressful economic times“.
For the past 14 months (it seems like a whole lot longer!) I have had another overuse injury/health issue going on. The condition is called costochondritis, which is more simply know as a strain of the sternum (that flat area at the front and centre of your chest where all the ribs join on to). It may also be considered as another form of a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).
Up until I injured it, I didn’t even know that there was anything there to injure. I had been working out in the garden carrying stones in a bucket (a large muscle activity involving upper arms, shoulders, core, back) on and off for a day, when I finally sat down and noticed a general ache around the sternum area, as well as everywhere else I should hasten to add! Over the course of the next few days, all the aches disappeared except the one in the sternum. It was at that stage that I realised I’d injured something, I just didn’t know how bad it would be. Symptoms can include pain, tingling and an itching sensation around the centre of the chest area.
Over the course of the following week, I resumed my normal life doing picture framing, but noticed that I could induce bad pain in the sternum area when attempting to push against something heavy. This wasn’t good! At this point I did a little research and found out about costochondritis. It is an injury to the soft connective tissue between the ribs and the sternum and can take a long time to heal due to the fact that there is not a huge supply of blood circulating to this area. I also got the advice of my GP who said that I just needed to rest it.
For the next 3 months I did my best to rest the chest area, which meant no lifting, pushing or carrying of anything remotely heavy in weight (including shopping bags!). One main difficulty I found was trying to rest the sternum while sleeping. The natural position of the body when sleeping on your side is to have both arms on the bed. This posture forces the sternum to be compressed and as a result does not give the area ample rest during sleep. Having restless nights also doesn’t help matters in this regard. One solution that I found is to sleep whilst hugging a pillow. The pillow has to be a puffed out largish one to keep the chest area open. It has proven to be a very useful method.
After 3 months of resting, the sternum had improved to the extent that I could actually do more. The question was, how much more? This, I found out by trial and error. If I did too much, the sternum would get more prickly, “itchy” and sore. It followed the same pattern every time: perform an activity, followed by prickly, itchy soreness for a few days, then it would calm down and I’d feel better again after a week. The trouble was that this went on for the best part of a year! Even now – some 14 months after the initial injury, I still have to be choosy about whether to try lifting something heavy or not. All in all, this injury has taken a long time to get better, and is one I could most certainly have done without!
The following are a few recommendations I would make for anyone suffering from costochondritis –
- Rest up well for 2-3 months, avoiding all lifting of things including heavy shopping bags.
- Hug a pillow while sleeping on your side to keep sternum area from being compressed.
- Gentle reintroduction to exercise – yoga can be a good form of exercise to start recovery, so too is swimming.
- You can use NSAIDs, eg ibuprofen to help with symptoms, but consult your GP first. I have also found much relief by taking Devil’s Claw (a natural anti inflammatory)
- Have patience and don’t rush your recovery. After 14 months I feel like I am back to 90%, but I’ve been in the 70-80% range for a long time (nearly a year) and have frequently found a way to aggravate it somehow, usually by carrying something heavy. This has happened even up to the 13 month mark!
This condition has certainly been very persistent, and has been quite frustrating to deal with mentally as well as physically, but after 14 months I am finally feeling like I am getting there. Fingers crossed!
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See my newer follow up post on this subject at Costochondritis II – The wicked itch is almost dead
On a recent 4 hour bus journey, I was fascinated whilst casually watching a passenger in front of me on her mobile phone. She was sitting with a ‘real’ friend next to her and was not of a juvenile age group. What amazed me was that she spent the whole 4 hour journey (no exaggeration) typing on her phone’s small keypad communicating with ‘virtual’ friends on Facebook and on the phone’s text messaging system. This included taking pictures of the scenery out the bus window and forwarding them on.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no technophobe and realise that social media is playing a big role in people’s lives these days, but it was perfectly obvious to me that this person lived a virtual life almost all of the time! Her ‘real’ friend sitting next to her was relegated to staring out the window most of the time, but was occasionally invited to check out a witty comment sent by one of her companion’s virtual friends. The insanity of this is that it shows how we are slowly losing the ability to communicate in any traditional, ie personal form. The new ‘normal’ is becoming the social media way.
So what? I hear you all ask. Well, aside from the implications for “real” social skills, all of the virtual lives that we are leading are at the cost of our bodies interacting with computers, phones, and other hand held mobile devices nearly all of the time! Which means we are clicking them and using small repetitive micro movements in doing so. I really fear that our virtual lifestyles will lead to a guarantee of an epidemic in RSI type conditions, and the debilitating pain that goes with them.
Is it not about time that we questioned the importance and necessity of our virtual lives against the necessity that we will have a healthy future in which we will be able to do perform our work as well as successfully interact with real people?
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I came across an article on the Dorset Echo’s website that referenced an employee who had been sacked by her employer for an alleged attempt to defraud them over an RSI claim. As part of their legal challenge to her claim, her employer produced over 60 hours worth of surveillance footage of her outside her home, shopping and going to the gym, and relied on around five minutes of this in her disciplinary hearing to disprove that she had a computer induced RSI ailment.
Civil liberty infringements aside, this example shows how ignorant some employers are to RSI and how it manifests itself. RSI is pain induced by micro movements of a repetitive nature, which ‘flares up’ and produces painful symptoms when doing many small micro movements over long periods of time eg typing on a keyboard or clicking a mouse. In bad cases, it can cause pain and weakness, for example in wrists, which may affect other activities, or other repetitive everyday tasks. The condition does not, however, generally affect the muscles groups associated with doing many tasks requiring larger motion, including most motions involved in working out at the gym.
The irony is that with RSI, activity that is based on large non-repetitive motions and especially cardio based activity should be encouraged since movement of the larger muscular groups will enhance blood flow to injured areas and promote natural healing. It should not be criticised and brought up as evidence against an RSI claim. To do so just shows the complete ignorance of the individuals and organisations involved.
It is a travesty that the perception is that someone with an RSI condition should be effectively seen to be in a wheelchair and/or doing nothing before they look like they have RSI to an employer. If they were observed continually texting on their phone or playing video games all day that would be a different story! However, being criticised for living a normal macro movement life whilst trying to keep fit and healthy is an outrage.
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A good few years ago, whilst visiting a Biofeedback practitioner (in the US), before they got a chance to attach electrodes onto my shoulders arms etc and do the technical task that is part of biofeedback, they did a talk through to find out my background, and observe what stresses may be involved in my life. It was part of a holistic approach to dealing with RSI before the technical measurements.
One question they asked that has stuck in my mind to this day was, “When was the last time you listened to music?”, to which I replied well, “In the car driving here”. Their response was, “No, when was the last time you listened to music just to enjoy the music, not as part of something else?”. I really had to rack my brain to think that one through. I couldn’t remember. Not for many years and probably when I was a lot younger, had a lot more time on my hands and a lot less to worry about – probably in my teens! I had to be honest and say, “I really don’t remember”.
The lesson she was trying to impart was that we rarely take the time in life any more to just enjoy simple things that once were a source of relaxation. Music should have been there to enjoy and relax to on its own. By then my life was so busy that music had been demoted to something less.
It may be a part of the reason we hanker after music during our childhood to teen years. Back then, we had more time to listen to music with fewer worries and distractions in our lives. Not only that, but we spent time listening to whole albums from start to finish (which back in my day were on vinyl) and playing them to death whilst memorising the lyrics. This changed in my busier twenties, demoting music to be something listened to when I was driving about, at my desk whilst working or when I went for a workout at the gym. It just wasn’t something I had time for any more on it’s own, yet it was still an important part of my life, just not for relaxing to. In other words I always added something else into the mix with music without obtaining any of the mental relaxation that could be found from listening to an entire album and doing nothing else.
Move forward a couple of decades, and we find ourselves in a completely different situation. The invention of home computers, MP3 files and players have completely revolutionised music and the way we listen to it. We now have thousands of files on our players that are very easily mixed and are frequently listened to in random order, which can be great, and really allows you to find stuff in your collection that you’d forgotten about. However it has led to being spoiled for choice, and we tend to flick through music tracks at the push of a button, not listening to albums in the way they were intended to be appreciated. Many artists spend a lot of time sequencing an album into a specific order which ‘flows’ or tells a story, and is really part of the overall experience of that music. This sequencing is more often than not completely wasted with shuffle plays of MP3 players, and really adds to the sense that music is just a cheap commodity in our already over commoditised life.
If we spent a dedicated hour a day to do nothing but listen to a favourite album the way it was intended to be listened to and for no other reason but to enjoy that album, we’d find that the music does a wonderful thing and takes us to a different place, where we can lose our worries and stresses for an hour and start to relax again, just as we did when we were younger. It may also help us to de-stress and unwind from tension induced conditions such as RSI.
So when was the last time that you really listened to music?
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In an interesting article in Hplus Magazine entitled ‘By thought alone: Mind over keyboard’, the author describes studies into how we can use the brain’s thoughts to control a keyboard input. The findings indicate that people with electrodes implanted in their brains can learn to type by using thoughts alone. It’s also possible to achieve this without these electrodes by using an EEG type interface, although speed rates for typing seem to be slow if we take the current findings –
“Tweeting by thought alone is a somewhat slow process using this prototype technology –- we speak at approximately 120 words per minute. But, as with texting, users can improve as they practice using the interface. “I’ve seen people do up to eight characters per minute,” Wilson says.”
Ouch.. that would be a significant downturn in workload! I can see this form of input being a considerable benefit to people with severe disabilities, however I do wonder what the long term health impacts are of having an electrode implanted in your brain. My guess is that it must surely at this stage be a large unknown. It is, however, an interesting area of research.
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I have recently had a surgical procedure to release a bad trigger finger condition on the middle finger of my right hand which I previously discussed in my post titled ‘Trigger Finger and RSI?‘. The problem is also accurately summarised with diagrams on this page about trigger finger.
Trigger finger is where a finger in a gripping position appears to lock in place. When you pull the finger open, it unlocks with a click (or in my case a loud ‘clunk’ which made anyone around me squirm!), hence the name trigger finger. The condition is caused by a nodule growth on the tendon which gets stuck on the pulley (sheath) system that is there to guide/hold the tendon in place. Doctors have minimal knowledge about why this nodule forms. Nodules on tendons can come and go on their own, but this one has been bad and persistent.
The build up to the operation had certainly been playing on my mind for several months. Unsurprisingly the mental prospect of the surgery was the worst part since the operation itself was only 15min in duration and was carried out under local anaesthetic (although I avoided the temptation to watch it!).
The procedure itself involved cutting open the sheath(pulley) that was causing the tendon restriction to occur, which freed the movement of the tendon (and nodule). The surgical entry point was on the palm of the hand just below the finger, and the incision itself was only about 1 inch long.
Recovery time has been fast. I am now nearly 3 weeks post op, the stitches are out , and the skin on the scar has fully healed over. I still have joint stiffness, and a bit of swelling which causes my finger to stiffen up in the bent position, but I expect this to gradually subside over time, especially after I keep stretching it like I have been instructed to do by the physiotherapists.
It is too early to do a complete assessment of the experience, but I can say that it’s great not having an annoying triggering finger condition any longer!
I wish there was a simple solution like this to my RSI condition!
UPDATE : 1 month post op
It’s now been about 1 month post operation, and I thought I’d update this post. Although the scar on the plam of the hand is healed over, however I still have a lot of sensitivity about the entrance wound, as well as a lump under the wound. Not sure at this point if the lump is scar tissue or the nodule. The triggering has gone, but I still have a lot of stiffness in the joint, and the finger still likes to stick in the bent position (I have to physically bend it straight with my other hand). Hopefully this is just a result of the swelling and that this will go away on time. I am using the finger, but it can be sore depending on the task at hand.
Update: 2 1/2 months post op
The finger is getting better all the time. It doesn’t stiffen up as frequently as before, but it still can stiffen quite badly and there is no cause I can determine for this. I recently had a follow up with the surgeon, and was advised that post op stiffness is common, and recovery can be as much as 18 months for some individuals – they don’t tell you that before the op! He suggested massaging the joint to reduce the swelling. The scar has totally healed up now, and is a whole lot less sensitive than it was a few weeks ago.
Update: 6 months post op
It’s certainly taken it’s time, but the finger is showing very little stiffness now. I can extend it fully contract it fully, grip things tightly, and have no sign of that horrible triggering any more. I can officially say the op was a success. It does go to show that there is a 3-6 month recovery term for this operation. Good luck with the operation if you are someone who is considering having it done and just factor in a few months for the recovery.
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We are a species that spends most of our lives battling addictions of one sort or another – ranging from what we consume to television to news, the list is endless. Our addiction to technology is no different. The cool technological gadgets that adorn our lives are just so addictive!
There are so many ways today to fritter away huge amounts of our time in our new virtual worlds. Have you ever played a video game and noticed how 3 hours of your life just disappeared?
Technology has brought us immense benefits as a society, but it has also made us slaves to a great extent, and we spend ever increasing amounts of time interacting with devices whether they be computers, mobile phones, PDAs, games consoles, MP3 players, GPS or TV remotes.
A substantial portion of employment now involves working on computers, whether it be the inputting/analysing of data, or the creation of the latest software that controls our lives. The trouble is that, the more high technology we introduce to our lives, the more time we spend interacting with it, often to the disadvantage of our health. It’s not too hard to imagine that, if current trends continue, there will be a technological gadget to interact with from the moment we wake up until the moment we fall asleep (or more scarily from the moment we are born until the moment we die!).
The Web has expanded the information available at our fingertips by a staggering amount. It has also changed