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1 ...to Deal with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) : Lesley Long Your Virtual Organiser

2 1. Purpose of my Here s How Guides. The aim of each Here s How Guide is to explain the topic in simple terms so that you can decide how best to proceed. These guides are not intended to promote any particular brand or product. If I find a software program that I especially like because it works, it s easy to use and I believe its good value for money I will share it with you. The views and opinions expressed are my own. It is good practice for you to verify any product, claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service with the manufacturer, provider or party in question by doing your own research. 2. How to deal with RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) when it strikes unexpectedly If you have been using your computer daily for years, probably for hours at a time without a hint of discomfort or pain, you may be caught off guard if RSI strikes out of the blue. It happened to me recentlyand within hours the pain was so excruciating that it put a temporary stop on my work as Your Virtual Organiser updating clients websites and writing their Blogs. Ouch! I needed to take action and fast. Here s what worked for me. 3. An Action Plan to Tackle RSI a) Am I sure that this is RSI? A quick look on Wikipedia gave me the following definition Symptoms of RSI Repetitive strain injury (RSI) (also known as repetitive stress injury, repetitive motion injuries, repetitive motion disorder (RMD), cumulative trauma disorder (CT), occupational overuse syndrome, regional musculoskeletal disorder (RMD) is an injury of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that may be caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression (pressing against hard surfaces), or sustained or awkward positions. b) Do I have the symptoms of RSI? If you have any of the following then it s a pretty good bet that you have RSI Pain in your fingers, palm, wrists or joints Pain in your lower arm, upper arm, neck and shoulder Pain can be throbbing, burning, shooting or just a dull ache. I was able to tick off all of these. The pain was so bad at times it left me unable to sleep on my right hand side for several nights. 2 P a g e : Lesley Long

3 c) Do I know what s causing It? You need to invest some time analysing how you work. That way you can decide whether you need to make a few simple adjustments or whether something more drastic may be needed. Work through this list of questions: Your Mouse: Is it too far from your keyboard? Do you have to over-extend your arm to reach it? Does the mouse move freely on the work surface or do you have to push it hard? Is the angle at which you hold it awkward as a result of the twist in your lower arm creating pain? Does it fit comfortably within the palm of your hand? Your Mouse Pad: Is it large enough? Is it soft enough and friction free? When did you last clean or change it? Does it have hard edges which catch the mouse or your wrist? Does it have a wrist rest? The Position of your Wrist and Lower Arm: is your wrist resting on the edge of your desk or work area? Do you continually move it along a hard edge which puts pressure on the nerves and tendons? Are you catching or resting your wrist weight on a cuff or edge of your clothing adding extra pressure? Your Keyboard: Are you using a full size keyboard or a laptop or even a micro-laptop version? Are the keys hard to press? Are your hands scrunched up? Is the angle of the keyboard awkward? Can you see the keys clearly? Are you leaning forward to work? Are any of the keys sticking repeatedly forcing you to type harder than you need to? Are you only typing with certain fingers? If you are not a touch typist most of us aren t - the chances are you may be over working some fingers as you type. It s usually the middle and index fingers. Your Posture: Does your chair support you? Are your neck and head jutting forward causing your shoulders to hunch? These factors place a strain on your body causing tightness and pain in your in your upper back, neck and chest which in turn is transmitted to your arms, wrists and hands. Your Phone: Is your phone causing problems? Do you make a lot of outbound calls repeatedly parking the handset under your neck? Do you punch buttons on a domestic handset or maybe an old office model which is in need of replacing? A phone which is not designed for the job you do may compound your problems. Taking regular breaks: I am the world s worst. I get so engrossed in a task I am oblivious to time passing and forget to take regular breaks to shake out my limbs, stretch and relax my overworked postural muscles and gets the blood flowing. Your work environment: Whether you work in an office or from home your work environment is crucial to your comfort. RSI can be aggravated by the cold and draughts. Once you are cold you become tense increasing the risk of injury. 3 P a g e : Lesley Long

4 d) What immediate action can I take to get relief? Some of these changes are quick and inexpensive but require a self discipline. Others will have a cost. You or your employer may have to buy ergonomically designed equipment to help you continue working effectively. Relieve the Pain: You can take painkillers to relieve the pain; however, this is only a short term solution. In the long term painkillers just mask your symptoms. The pain is the body s way of getting you to take action. If you persist in working by taking painkillers then your RSI will continue to get worse. Stop and Take a Break: You will probably notice that when you stop typing or using the mouse the pain goes away or reduces. This may be especially noticeable if you take a break over a weekend. If it starts again as soon as you return to work then it s pretty certain to be RSI See Your Doctor: If it s really severe take a few days off work to rest your injured limbs and muscles. Yes I know it s your living it s mine too. However, if you don t deal with the RSI now and give your body a break then your health may be affected in the longer term and you will create bigger problems for yourself and your employer in the future. No-one, however, much we might like to believe it is indispensable. It is possible to recover from RSI if you tackle it fast enough and the condition is not too far advanced. Be aware that if you don t, then you and your employer (if you have one) will have to make changes to the way you perform your job as part of their legal obligations under the UK s health, safety and welfare legislation. e) What long term options do I have to reduce RSI? The sensible rule is to make changes slowly and start with the least cost options first. That way you can monitor the results of each adjustment. Throwing a lot of money at several ergonomically designed solutions at the same time may seem like an effective response. However, the downside is that you won t know which change has been the most effective? 1) No Cost Options Take regular breaks get up move around and do some stretching exercises to relieve overworked and cramped muscles. Even better, if you work from home take the dog for a walk then you can both benefit. Re-arrange your workspace. Tidy your desk; re-site your phone, mouse mat, keyboard etc to avoid over stretching. Get rid of items on the desk you don t need Working in clutter creates its own stress. And no - an untidy desk is not a sign of a creative mind! 4 P a g e : Lesley Long

5 2) Low Cost Options Mouse mat: Invest in a mouse mat with a gel wrist rest. Some are better than others and it s very much a matter of trial and error. For me, too hard a gel pad creates its own problems and I do like a large mouse pad area. You will have to find what works for you. Seating: Check and if necessary change the height and angle of your chair. Ensure that it is supporting your lower back. Does it tilt back slightly? Is the seat securely fixed and not wobbling when you move? Sit with your bottom and thighs on the chair not on the edge, keep your spine straight and don t slouch. Foot Support: Are both your feet on the ground or wrapped around your chair legs? If like me you have short legs then invest in a foot rest so your feet are level and firmly placed against something solid. Your hands should be level with and at right angles to your keyboard. Your eye gaze when looking directly ahead should be in line with the top of your screen. 3) More Expensive Options Change your Mouse: You might be one of those ambidextrous people who can switch to working left handed after a few hours practice. Alternatively, consider investing in an ergonomically designed mouse. There are various options on the market including the Upright mouse that can be used whether you are left or right handed. Or the Ergonomic mouse which you hold in a more natural handshake position. If you have extra small or large hands you ll have to find a mouse that fits with your physique. Again it s trial and error. You can expect to spend between on a mouse. Change your Keyboard: Microsoft has a range of ergonomically designed keyboards. Some have received better reviews than others, so do your homework and try before you buy if at all possible. Expect to pay anything from Change your Chair. If you are not sitting on a properly designed office chair then over time you will develop problems with posture. This exacerbates the risk of you getting RSI related problems. Invest in Voice Recognition Software. If you write for a living then consider buying software such as Via Voice or Dragon Naturally Speaking. If you can dictate your material into your computer then your only typing time is spent editing and refining. In so doing you will take a lot of the strain off your wrists and hands. 4. Conclusion A few weeks ago I was in agony and seriously worried about how I was going to continue working. Today, I have implemented quite a few of the above changes and the pain from my RSI is much improved. 5 P a g e : Lesley Long

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