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Repetitive Stress Injuries

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In today's electronic world, virtually everything runs on computers. The only practical method of using a computer is by typing instructions (or data) from a keyboard. This galloping advance in technology and our reliance on technological machinery means that more and more people are spending greater amounts of time using computer keyboards, and run the risk of contracting a Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI).

RSIs are medical conditions caused by repeating the same task over and over again. For example, constantly moving and clicking the mouse or striking your keyboard keys too hard while typing. These tasks, over time, can cause wear and tear on your body's soft tissues (tendons, nerves, etc). If care isn't taken when using a computer, such as periodically resting these moving body parts, permanent medical damage can result.

Some of the more common computer-caused RSIs are:
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – the compression of the median nerve within the carpal tunnel (see the FAQ for more information).
  • Tenosynovitis – inflammation of the tendon sheath.
  • Tendonitis – inflammation of a tendon.
  • Epicondylitis – an inflamed tendon that attaches itself to the bones at the elbow.
  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome – compression of the ulnar nerve where it passes the elbow near the "funny bone."
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – affectation of the nerves and blood vessels of the neck and shoulder due to bad sitting posture (hunching over the keyboard).
Typical warning signs of these typing related injuries may include:
  • Tightness or soreness.
  • Throbbing or sharp pain.
  • Numbness, tingling, burning sensation.
  • Loss of strength in the hands, arms, neck, or shoulders.
Some of these symptoms may not be noticeable while one is hard at work. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, often is felt as hand numbness or tingling while trying to sleep.

Usually, however, the first symptom of an RSI will be localized fatigue or aches, pains, loss of strength, trembling in the arm affected. These sensations could increase if one continues the damaging activity, but may decrease in intensity after stopping the repetitve task. If you begin to experience any such symptoms, it is imperative that you visit your doctor immediately. Even a day could make a significant difference in recovery time.

Some of the work related factors known to contribute to RSIs today are:
  • Monotonous or Repetitive Tasks – performing the same action with the same body part.
  • Posture – placing a joint toward its extreme end of movement in any direction away from its neutral or centered position.
  • Force – performing a task with excessive muscular exertion.
  • Static Exertion – holding an object or part of the body in the same position for an extended period of time.
  • Contact Stress – direct pressure on nerves or tendons from resting a body part on a hard or angled surface.
  • Exhaustion – infrequent or inflexible breaks while performing repetitive tasks.
Here are some things one should do to prevent RSIs during computer use:
  • Keep frequently used items within arm's reach to avoid stretching uncomfortably to get them.
  • Adjust the chair so that both feet lie flat and thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Ensure proper support for hands and forearms when you use a keyboard (either on a tabletop, keyboard wrist rest, or the arms of the chair).
  • Avoid bending wrists for an exceeding length of time.
  • Adjust typing style and keyboard position to avoid striking the keys too hard.
  • Get up from the work desk at regular intervals and move around for a few minutes.
Knowing the risk factors and identifying the symptoms of RSIs can go a long way toward preventing them. For more information on this topic, you should consult with your physician and immediately bring any symptoms to his or her attention.

See also: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome