It’s not the sexiest topic, but anyone who works with computers regularly (i.e., almost everyone) should be aware of the dangers of repetitive stress injuries (RSI). Writers are especially at risk, since we spend so much time typing. If you let yourself get to the point where it’s painful to type, you could be literally out of a job.
Since I’m still young and plan to have many years of writing ahead of me, I thought I’d research the repetitive stress injury risk that computer workers (and writers in particular) face. This is in the hopes that we can all avoid chronic pain and express ourselves with ease and grace.
What Is RSI?
Before we go any further, let’s define repetitive stress injury.
Repetitive stress injury (also known as “repetitive strain injury”) refers to “a group of injuries affecting the muscles, tendons and nerves primarily of the upper neck and limbs.”1 RSI occurs because of “repeated overuse and injury to the muscles of the hands, wrists, arms or shoulders.”2
In particular, we’re concerned with RSI related to keyboard and mouse use. General symptoms of RSI include:
- Pain or aching
- Tingling or numbness
Left unchecked, the discomfort you feel can progress to serious, chronic pain that leaves you unable to do everyday things like opening doors or preparing your own food.3 Yikes!
Luckily, you can prevent RSI. Here are five ways to avoid it:
Pay Attention to Your Body
If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Don’t try to “push through it”–this isn’t a marathon.
What starts as minor pain can become debilitating pain over time. Don’t let it get to that point. Address it while you still have time, as it’s much easier to prevent RSI than to treat it.
Practice Proper Posture
I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but posture really does matter. No amount of stretching, breaks, and relaxation will matter if your posture is crap.
Have a look at this diagram from WebMD for an example of proper posture while sitting at the computer.
Take Frequent Breaks
Of all the tips I’ll mention, this one is the easiest to implement. All you need to do is install a browser extension such as Take A Break or another program that reminds you at regular intervals to get up, stretch, grab some water, and do a bit of light exercise.
I have Take A Break set to remind me to take a break every thirty minutes, and I use that time to do a few body weight squats, push-ups, or exercise band pulls. You don’t have to exercise, but at least get up and walk around. Your eyes will appreciate the break as well, and you’ll return to your work mentally refreshed.
Relaxing: it’s harder than you might think.
Do a quick body check right now. Are you holding tension anywhere? More than likely, and you probably don’t even realize it. I constantly catch myself holding tension in my feet and shoulders, and all that tension can translate into poor hand position and generally bad posture.
The solution: become mindful of your body. You can do this a few different ways, but my favorite is regular meditation. Just take three minutes a day to relax, close your eyes, and clear your mind. It’s tough, but the whole point is to make you more aware of your body and breath. This won’t automatically alleviate habitual tension, but it will make it easier to catch yourself tensing up and relax accordingly.
If you need a primer on meditation, Leo Babauta’s short guide is one of the best I’ve found.
You can also try progressive muscle relaxation, as described in this video.
Reduce Mouse Use
Almost all of the resources I read for this article cited mouse use as an especially pernicious cause of RSI. The good news is that it’s easy to use the mouse less. All you have to do is learn common keyboard shortcuts for the programs you use. Not only will this help you avoid RSI, but it will also help you work more efficiently and fluently.
The documentation for whatever program you’re using is usually the best place to find keyboard shortcuts, or you can just Google “[name of program] + common keyboard shortcuts.” Wikipedia also has an extensive table of keyboard shortcuts across different operating systems and programs.
I hope this article has at least made you aware of the dangers of RSI. It’s not a fun subject, but neither is being unable to type. As always, if you have concerns about any aspect of your health, please consult a doctor.
- “Assessment of Type and Nature of Repetitive Strain Injury Among Software Professionals.” Satish Saroshe et al. http://njmr.in/home/download/138