Your Quest: learn about repetitive strain injuries and some small things you can do to prevent them.
What even is RSI:
Let’s start out by first identifying what Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI in medical abbreviation) is and why it’s important. What is RSI? The definition of RSI, as is indicative of the name, is “a condition in which the prolonged performance of repetitive actions, typically with the hands, causes pain or impairment of function in the tendons and muscles involved” ( . Repetitive strain injuries, can also known as repetitive motion injuries, repetitive stress injuries, repetitive stress disorder, or repetitive stress syndrome, and you’ll find that online these terms are used interchangeably. In summary, these are all phrases to describe any repetitive motion that can cause injury when performed frequently and for a sustained stretch of time.
Repetitive strain wrist injuries are one of the most common repetitive strain injuries today due to increasing computer usage. Shoulder, hand, thumb, elbow, and forearm repetitive strain injuries are also prevalent. As of right now, RSIs impacts roughly 3 million US citizens a year. Causes could range from daily computer use, to musical instrument use, exercising, writing, or even texting on your phone.
As of right now, computer use is almost a necessity in the workplace and at home. When it comes to being the most productive version of yourself, you can’t have pains and discomfort come in the way between you and that essay, business proposal, research paper, or cookie recipe. (Never let anything come between you and that snickerdoodle cookie recipe.) Unfortunately, the repetitive actions of typing, using your mouse, and resting your wrists on your desk could be adding up to developing a serious case of RSI or even potentially carpal tunnel syndrome.
How to diagnose your RSI:
How can you tell if you do have RSI or potentially any other musculoskeletal injury? In most cases of RSI, the symptoms can range from mild to severe and usually develop over a long period of time. If you feel pain, stiffness, numbness, weakness, or cramping in your wrists, fingers, shoulders, or neck; it’s possible that you could be experiencing a RSI. How long does RSI take to heal? Unfortunately that question has no easy answers based on the fact that RSI takes many forms and levels of severity, and each body recovers at different rates.
Thankfully most cases of RSI are very treatable as, for the most part, only the soft tissue is injured. Some instances of RSI wrist or thumb conditions may involve actions beyond the self-care we will list below, like through message or, in rare cases, surgery. Unfortunately, like most injuries, RSI injuries usually aren’t quick healing processes and are accompanied by an intricate knowledge trail where one can easily find themselves lost.
For your benefit and knowledge we’ve found some simple and every day tasks you can do to make your RSI symptoms lessen, and to help prevent them in the first place.
Firstly if you believe you are suffering from RSI, the best thing you can do is contact your doctor or healthcare provider. It is possible that you could be suffering from something more serious like carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendonitis, or even writer’s cramp. A doctor can identify your RSI symptoms and direct you to the right repetitive strain injury treatment for your particular injury. We say this because it can be extremely difficult to determine what specific RSI you may be experiencing and its cause. RSIs like repetitive stress wrist injuries are complex as they deal with joint and musculoskeletal connections. Telemedicine is an excellent option for consulting your doctor on less urgent but bothersome repetitive strain injuries.
If you already know you have any RSI, or are wanting to prevent the development of symptoms you can do the following at least once a day. The list below is written in descending order of importance.
Take a break:
Listed as the best and quickest method for you to combat repetitive motion injury, taking a break is also one of the healthier things you can do in general when it comes to any setting involving extended periods of time standing or sitting. It’s recommended that you take at least a 10 minute break for each hour of continuous computer and keyboard usage. You want to give your body the opportunity to open the blood flow to your fingers, wrists, and shoulders.
In addition, taking a break will help give your eyes a break from the glare of the screen. A 2016 study found that when exposed to LEDs for long periods of time, there was an increase in retinal degeneration and the breakdown of the external blood-retinal barrier. This was in comparison to the use of FLC (fluorocompact lamps). If you find yourself unable to take a break for 10 minutes, place your hands palms up on your lap and look about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. Doing this will provide your eyes with a much needed break, give them a moment to adjust, and reduce the amount of blue light that your eyes intake.
- Stand and walk a round a bit to increase blood circulation.
- Look away from your monitor to give your eyes a break as well.
- Take at least 10 minutes of break per hour of computer activity.
Repetitive strain injury stretching is an important method to treating and preventing RSIs from developing or getting worse. Similar to taking a break, stretching will encourage the flow of blood within your body to the areas of repetitive use. Increased blood circulation is known to help reduce pain, provide warmth throughout your body, and allow for better memory. The most common sign of poor blood circulation is a numbness or tingling within a limb or extremity.
Harvard studies have found that lightly pressing the palms of your hands together and pushing your fingers back and forth, then finally rotating your hands away from your body can help with circulation within your wrists and fingers, and will strengthen your tendons as well. There are a number of exercises you can do to help increase the blood circulation within your upper body.
- Stretch your palms, forearms, and shoulders to also increase blood flow.
- Make sure to not over stretch and tear anything.
- Take your time stretching! Rushing might cause more damage.
Adjust your posture:
The most rewarding thing you can do for your body in any setting is improving your posture. The resting posture of our bodies has more of an impact on us than we like to think, and making sure we’re keeping our longevity in mind is critical to being productive and avoiding issues like repetitive motion injury or carpal tunnel syndrome.
The ideal posture for frequent office computer use is to make sure that your wrists are flat and hovering over the keyboard. When we leave our wrists on the table when we type, we are extending the ligaments within for long periods of time which causes strain and discomfort. Incorporating a wrist rest into your setup can help with this as it will provide an area for you to rest your hands momentarily before continuing on. It is also important to make sure your wrists aren’t bending inward at a severe angle to reach the keyboard. Doing this causes tension on the insides of your wrist and could lead to some discomfort and pain later on.
Most experts suggest that the ideal posture is keeping your back straight with your neck and shoulders relaxed when sitting at a desk. Not only will maintaining a healthy posture increase blood flow (as you won’t be cutting off any circulation), but it will also have long lasting positive effects on your posture. In addition to a straight back and relaxed shoulders, try having your forearms parallel with your thighs and your monitor roughly at eye level so as not to cause additional stress in your neck or shoulders.
- Straighten your back and relax your shoulders.
- Don't place additional weight on your wrists, or have them resting upon the table top as you type.
- Making small posture adjustments will help with your mood and productivity.
Seemingly an obvious statement, but relaxation and comfort play a huge role in mental health and stress as well as anxiety relief. While stretching, taking breaks, and adjusting your posture can help in the prevention of repetitive stress injury, it’s only helping combat the physical problems whereas coming into work with a more relaxed state of mind will help ease your stress and combat the mental aspects of repetitive stress injury. Furthermore, it will lessen anxiety that goes a long way toward improving your mood and mental health.
However, finding what truly relaxes you is hard for me to say or provide. For some of us, relaxation may come in the form of reading a book, or getting a massage, or even just laying down and watching some television. Whatever may relax you, I encourage you to carve out the time for it. It plays more of a role in your day to day mentality and life than you may believe. Another small but often overlooked action you can do is to improve your surroundings. Whether it’s cleaning up a bit at home, organizing some loose paperwork at the office, or being in an environment that is clean and orderly, little maintenance items like these can have an impact on your mental state as well as on your health overtime.
That being said, a study has found that regularly doing yoga can produce similar effects to finding a relaxed state of being. Which means that even if you personally find relaxation rather hard to obtain, carving out the time for weekly sessions will provide a similar result. If you’ve never tried yoga, I would recommend giving it a shot to see if it works for you.
- Find what relaxes you and make sure to carve out time for it.
- Get plenty of sleep each night.
- If you haven't yet, try yoga as it produces similar results to a relaxed environment and is a healthy activity.
Congratulations! RSI combat learned.
Barhum, Lana. “What Are the Symptoms of Poor Circulation?” Edited by Stacy Sampson, Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322371.php.
Hodge, Allison. “6 Stretches to Combat Repetitive Stress.” One Medical, One Medical, 21 Dec. 2018, www.onemedical.com/blog/live-well/repetitive-stress-stretches.
Krigel, A, et al. “Light-Induced Retinal Damage Using Different Light Sources, Protocols and Rat Strains Reveals LED Phototoxicity.” Neuroscience, Pergamon, 14 Oct. 2016, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306452216305243#ab005.
Laeser, Kathryn L, et al. “The Effect of Computer Workstation Design on Student Posture.” Taylor & Francis Online, 24 Feb. 2014, www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08886504.1998.10782249.
Marxhausen, Paul. “Computer Related Repetitive Strain Injury.” R.S.I. Page, rsi.unl.edu/.
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In depth explanation of RSIs
“Preventing RSI.” Harvard RSI Action --> Preventing RSI, www.rsi.deas.harvard.edu/preventing.html.
“Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).” NHS Choices, NHS, 19 Nov. 2018, www.nhs.uk/conditions/repetitive-strain-injury-rsi/#.
The National Health Services
Smith, Caroline, et al. “A Randomised Comparative Trial of Yoga and Relaxation to Reduce Stress and Anxiety.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Churchill Livingstone, 21 June 2006, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229906000434.
“The Importance of Stretching.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching.
Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Letter