“Repetitive strain injury” is a broad-based term that encompasses all disorders of the muscles, tendons, and nerves of the neck, hands, arms, or shoulders that are caused by the ongoing repetition of awkward movements. Athletes are at increased risk for repetitive strain injuries, but increasingly, so are office workers. Using a computer all day, especially at a workstation that is not ergonomically designed, can put you at tremendous risk. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize your risk of developing a work-related repetitive strain injury.
If you are in imminent danger of developing a repetitive strain injury, your body will give you warning signs. The biggest sign is pain in your hands, arms, or shoulders that worsens after spending significant time at your workstation. You may also notice weakness, numbness, or tingling, as well as loss of hand strength and lack of coordination.
You may catch yourself frequently massaging tender spots or even changing your daily habits. For example, you might stop wearing bracelets, start using your nondominant hand more frequently, or even buy clothing that is easier to put on and take off.
Here are a few tips for preventing repetitive strain injuries at work:
Although an ergonomic workstation can be expensive, your health is worth the investment. Ask your employer to provide an ergonomic setup, but if you are denied, at least make the investment in a chair that properly supports your spine. Position your keyboard just above thigh level, with your mouse close by. Your computer monitor should be roughly arm’s length from you, with your eyes level with the top of the screen. If you type frequently, an ergonomic keyboard is highly recommended. You may also try a lumbar support cushion for your lower back.
Get up and move around at least once per hour. Stretch your muscles, drink some water, take a short walk, and rest your eyes by gazing off into the distance.
Whenever you can, skip the email and walk down the hall to speak with your coworkers. Reduce editing by carefully planning out the documents you create. Stay off your computer and phone at night as much as possible, allowing your body to rest and relax.
Rather than digging your wrists into your keyboard wrist rest or table edge, allow your hands to lightly float above the keys. Use your entire arm to operate the mouse or reach difficult to access keys, and use two hands for combination keystrokes.
Perform frequent stretching and strengthening exercises for your neck, shoulders, wrists, and hands.
Although there is no way to fully guarantee you will never develop a repetitive strain injury, following these tips will dramatically lower your risk. If you do develop signs of an injury, stop doing the activity and use a combination of icing and gently stretching to loosen up your muscles and tendons. If symptoms persist, contact a physical therapist as soon as possible. We can prescribe an individualized treatment plan to reduce pain and heal your injury non-surgically.
Ready to Get Started?
If you are ready to start your physical therapy journey with a team you can trust, contact Clifton Physical Therapy at 973-241-1338 to schedule your first appointment.