Workstation Health and Fitness for RSI

WorkstationRepetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is now a major industrial disease affecting millions of people around the world. RSI includes conditions such as carpel tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis and tendinitis – often collectively referred to as upper limb disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), computer related injuries or cumulative trauma disorders, or CTD. Often the posotion of workstations and the design of the pc and accessories can affect how our health and safety.

Workstation Ergonomics

A well designed workstation is essential to maintaining good posture and reducing the risk of lower back pain and other computer related injuries.

Ergonomic Keyboards and Mice

There are quite a few ergonomically designed keyboards and mice available. The Microsoft Natural Keyboard is one example. This keyboard splits the keys into two panels – one for each hand, and angles each panel so that the hands sit naturally on the keyboard, rather than requiring them to be twisted into an unnatural position which is the case with normal keyboards. Many mice are now designed to fit neatly into either hand, and can often have a scrolling wheel, which can make scrolling through documents easier and less stressful than using scroll bars.

These ergonomic devices are generally more expensive than standard designs, but can be well worth the investment.

Ergonomic Use of Keyboards and Mice

The computer mouse was originally designed to make using a computer easier – it is much easier to point at a picture and click than to learn a relatively complicated series of keystrokes. However, research has shown that using a mouse is a significant cause of repetitive strain injury. Especially if the mouse is located at the same level and to the side of the keyboard – it’s usual location. This requires extending your arm which introduces significant tensions and stresses in your arm, shoulder and neck.

The best position for your mouse is on a raised platform slightly above the numeric keypad on your computer. Also, if you reduce the speed of the mouse and the number of clicks you have to make you can greatly reduce the muscle tension in your arm and hand. Additionally, you can swap the primary and secondary mouse buttons (the left and right buttons), to change the mouse from being right handed to left handed. Using your left hand – or right hand if you are left handed – can take some getting used to, but can be very helpful if you are suffering from any aches and pains in one hand. Regularly alternating between left and right hands can also give your arms and hands a rest, thus minimizing the risk of developing any RSI condition. You can swap the mouse buttons using the Mouse applet in the Windows Control Panel – or directly from the Stress Buster context menu – with fewer mouse clicks and/or key strokes.

To reduce the mouse speed, open the Mouse applet in the Windows Control Panel, select the tab Pointer Options and move the pointer speed slider to the left to slow. Click OK.

To reduce the number of clicks you have to make, open the My Computer icon, then select Tools, Folder Options, and then under Click Items As Follows, choose Single-click to open an item.

If you can you should avoid using the mouse as much as possible. Most actions and commands can be carried out using keyboard shortcuts instead of the mouse. For example, to reduce the number of clicks you have to make with your mouse – as described above, you could use the following keyboard shortcuts:

  • Press the button on your keyboard to open the Windows Start Menu.
  • Use the arrow keys to select My Computer (or the alternative name you may have given to your computer), and then press Enter or Return. This will open an explorer window for your computer.
  • Hold down the Alt key and press “T” to open the Tools menu, then press “O” to open Folder Options.
  • In Folder Options, hold down the Alt key, and press “S”. This will select the option Single-click to open an item.
  • Press Enter or Return to close the Folder Options dialog.

Windows Help provides extensive help on using keyboard shortcuts with Windows. Individual applications such as Microsoft Office also have their own keyboard shortcuts – with the appropriate help. Learning keyboard shortcuts can take some time, but once learnt, using them tends to be faster than using the mouse, and avoids much of the discomfort associated with the mouse.

Rest Breaks

All ergonomic experts agree that taking frequent rest breaks is essential to avoid the risk of computer related injuries.

You should take frequent “eye breaks” – staring at a computer monitor for long periods causes you to blink less often – resulting in dryer eyes. Every 10 to 15 minutes you should look away from your monitor and blink your eyes rapidly for a few seconds. This will refresh the tear film and clear any dust from the surface of the eyes. Additionally you should focus on something at a distance – preferably 20 feet or more away – look out of the window if you can – this will relax the muscles inside the eye.

You should take frequent short pauses or “micro pauses” – for 10 seconds or so up to a minute – every 10 minutes or thereabouts. You should take regular short breaks – for 5 minutes or more – every hour or so – maybe go for a coffee or a short walk around the office, and you should take a long break every two or three hours – for at least 15 minutes, or preferably 30 minutes to an hour. Exactly how long and how frequent your breaks are depends on your own personal preferences and working environment.

Stretching Exercises

Regular stretching is an essential part of RSI prevention and recovery, remember that your body is not designed to be sat at a desk for 8 hours a day clicking a mouse. Respect your body and give it the movement and range of motion it normally expects.

Posture

Good posture is essential to avoid repetitive strain injury and other computer related injuries. Well designed workstation ergonomics can help in maintaining a good posture.

  • Make sure that you can reach the keyboard with your wrists as flat as possible (not twisted up or down) and straight (not twisted left or right). An ergonomic keyboard can help to keep your wrists straight.
  • Make sure that your elbow angle is 90 degrees or more to avoid nerve compression at the elbow.
  • Make sure that your upper arm and elbow are as close to the body and as relaxed as possible for mouse use – avoid overreaching. Also make sure that your wrist is as straight as possible when the mouse is being used.
  • Make sure that you sit back in the chair and that you have good back support – especially lumber support.
  • Make sure that your feet are flat on the floor. Use a foot rest if necessary.
  • Make sure that your head and neck are as straight as possible.
  • Make sure that you are relaxed. Forcing yourself to sit up straight can sometimes introduce unhealthy tensions in the back muscles.

Alternative Input Devices

There are a number of alternative input devices you can use, instead of the mouse and keyboard, which you might find helpful. Examples are the trackball, a graphics table and pen, a touchpad, and even voice control.

RSI is a very serious health risk, especially with the young people who are coming to any industry sector that has continuous use of a PC. You need to take all the actions and preventions necessary to help minimize that risk.

About The Author: Gerard Bulger is a part of the company http://www.threadbuilder.co.uk/ which creates Stress Buster the automated background program that monitors peoples computer usage and indicates when breaks should be taken to help alleviate RSI.gbadvice@yahoo.co.uk

Randy Rasa

Randy is an engineer/programmer/web designer who has suffered from repetitive strain injury off and on for over a decade.

2 Comments:

  1. Can you suggest an alternative to the gel wrist pads that are attached to mouse mats. I find these help but hinder me as they are fixed. Is there anything that attaches to the wrist that you know of?

  2. The product I use is the Imak SmartGlove, which is kind of a hand splint that has a “pad” built into the glove. The pad is actually a pocket containing hundreds of tiny beads, which form beneath the hand as you rest in on a surface. Works for me.

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