RSI…no, it’s not a new STD, but it’s a three letter acronym that you should be aware of. Whether you suffer from Repetitive Strain Injury or not, this condition can creep up on you if you’re not mindful. Especially for Desk Jockeys.
Do you suffer from symptoms such as aching, throbbing, pins and needles, numbness and/or weakness in your hands, shoulders, back and/or neck?
You’re not at all alone. Every year, millions of proud members of the workforce—and even those outside of it—suffer from Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).
Indeed, a recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figure out of Ireland suggests that a whopping one in five within that country experience RSI symptoms. Further, as many as approximately four million in Britain develop RSI from text messaging alone!
And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), RSI is the country’s most costly and common occupational health issue, constituting roughly two-thirds of all illnesses reported and racking up more than $20 billion annually in workers compensation.
So, Just What Is This Widespread Problem?
Repetitive Strain Injury occurs when the soft tissues of the body (tendons, ligaments, and nerves) are damaged through the completion of a repetitive task(s) on a regular basis.
While texting and other activities are certainly a potential hazard, there’s a high incidence of RSI from occupational (mouse clicking, typing, and writing) and recreational activities (running, cycling and throwing balls) completed in a suboptimal setting and/or an incorrect manner over time.
And when the symptoms hit, they can be absolutely debilitating.
It’s not just computer or device usage that causes RSI. There are risk factors that can predict the onset of a variety of symptoms. Let’s look at each in turn, shall we?
RSI Risk Factors
There are three primary risk factors that promote the development of RSI: poor technique, poor posture, and overuse. Moreover, specific secondary risk factors exist that increase the chances of RSI development if you already exhibit a primary risk factor.
The following are but a few secondary risk factors:
- A gig that requires heavy computer usage and text input
- Use of a computer for greater than two hours each day
- A lack of frequent breaks
- A high-pressure work environment
- A lifestyle that incorporates little or no exercise
- Poor sleeping habits
- Poor nutrition
- A pre-existing medical condition such as diabetes, obesity or arthritis
Any of the above may skyrocket your chances of developing Repetitive Strain Injury. But what happens if you do get it?
Repetitive Strain Injury may not be a life-threatening disorder, but it’s no walk in the park.
While RSI is most often characterized by upper extremity pain that escalates with prolonged desk work or computer use, there’s a veritable boat load of additional symptoms that can affect the body and adversely impact the quality of life.
Do you experience any of the following?
- Loss of sensation or tingling in the hands or forearms
- Weakness in the upper extremities
- Sore eyes
- “Heavy” hands
- Cricked (stiff) neck
- Lack of strength in your hands and fingers—for example, an inability to open jars
- Clumsiness, including dropping items you normally wouldn’t
- Back ache
- General lack of coordination
All of these problems are hallmarks of the debilitating effects of RSI and suggest you should seek the help of a professional such as a Physical Therapists. It is best to seek treatment immediately, as these symptoms can worsen to the point that you struggle to type, prepare food, lean over and pick up objects, or even open doors.
The first step to treating Repetitive Strain Injury is to identify the source of the problem—poor typing posture, for example—and eliminate it.
Alternatively, if your RSI is from physical activities such as running, then you may want to change the way you run.
Beyond that, aspirin and associated over the counter anti-inflammatories may be recommended for short term pain relief, as are hot and cold packs or water baths.
Further, professional assistance from a physiotherapist may prove beneficial in “retraining” you to relax your affected muscles or strengthen them.
Additional forms of therapy include yoga, massage, lymphatic drainage, and articulation and mobilization of joints and tissues to aid in proper circulation.
Don’t have RSI? Wonderful. But don’t celebrate—get smart by working on prevention techniques.
Here are a few tips you can incorporate into work day going forward:
- Keep your feet flat on the floor at your desk.
- Use a chair that offers strong back support.
- Tweak the angle of your backrest and the height of your arm rests as necessary on creating your optimal seated position.
- Keep your screens or displays at eye level at all times. Adjust the height of your chair as necessary to comply.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and neck arched inward. Avoid unnecessary tension!
- Use a split keyboard in an effort to keep your wrists straight.
- Float your hands over the keyboard as opposed to constantly resting your wrists.
- Finally, take regular breaks from repetitive tasks!
A mix of appropriate change to your work environment will go along way. Generally, just like any injury, you will need to give the tissues time to heal and that may involve rest from an activity for a short while. These steps, along with stretches and strengthening that your Physical Therapists may prescribe will help you return to normal activity quickly.