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Preventing Repetitive Strain Injury the Geeky Way

Photo By Matt Hamm

Most of us spend our days working in front of a workstation and the wrong workstation settings can cause a serious problem called “Repetitive Strain Injury” or RSI for short. Do not ignore the pain in your hand and thinking that it will go away or get better by itself.

We have compiled some tips and resources to help everyone to get on the right track in making an ergonomic workstation to prevent RSI. Please note that we are not certified medical professionals. We put our best effort to gather information on RSI from good sources in the Internet. The readers should consult a medical professional to get medical advice on RSI.

Common Causes of RSI

Here are some of the common cause of RSI:

  • Poor posture
  • Poor technique
  • Using a computer for more than two to four hours a day
  • Not taking frequent breaks when working with computers.
  • Loose-jointed
  • Do not exercise regularly
  • Working under high pressure environment
  • Arthritis, diabetes, or other serious medical condition.
  • Having long finger nails
  • Weigh more than you should
  • Don’t sleep well

Setup a Good Working Environment

In order to prevent RSI we need to have a good working environment. We need to have a good posture, and a good PC setup to help you work which includes your keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

Good Posture

Here are some tips on how to achieve a good posture:


Photo By RSI Warrior

  • Put your feet flat on the floor. Putting your feet straight out in front of you makes you more inclined to slouch your back.
  • Do not slouch.
  • Head, neck, and shoulders need to be in line.
  • Keep your shoulder and arms relaxed at your side.
  • Arms need to be in natural position.
  • Elbow should not be overly bent.
  • Our neck should be arched in, relaxed, supported by spine.
  • Be careful not to hold tension in back or under chin.
  • Head need to be balanced gently on top of spine.
  • Your back need to be straight and up right.
  • Knees must be directly over feet, bent at the right angles with a couple inches of space from the chair
  • Pelvis: rocked forward, sitting on the “sitz bones,” with hips (the sockets where your femurs attach) positioned no lower than, and perhaps slightly higher than the knees.
  • Lower back: arched in, and possibly supported by your chair or a towel roll.
  • Upper back: naturally rounded
  • Keyboard

    The way we use our keyboard greatly affect our chances in developing RSI. It is important to position your keyboard above your thighs. Your should be able to reach the keys with your elbows at your side and bent at 90 degrees to maintain a neutral position for your wrist when you type and your forearms should roughly be parallel to the ground. Do not bend your wrist towards your little finger or bend it toward your thumb also try not to type with your wrist bent upwards towards you.

    Some keyboards such as Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 keyboard provides better support to achieve a natural position when we are typing.

    Photo By Office Fitness Tips

    Mouse

    Repetitive clicks and the way we hold our mouse may cause RSI. We are at risk of developing thumb or finger tendonitis if we are gripping our mouse too hard.  We can easily of developing muscle fatigue if we place our mouse too far or too high to the side.

    We need to choose a mouse that fits the contour of our hand to avoid awkward positioning or over-gripping the mouse.Here are some ergonomic mouse that we can use to reduce the risk of developing RSI:

    1. 3M Ergonomic Mouse

    2. Ergo Guys Mouse

    3. Natural Point’s Smart Nav allows users to control their computer by moving their head instead of their hand making smart nav a good alternative when we developed a bad case of RSI that make mouse clicking a big pain.

    Photo By Smart Nav

    Monitor

    Human eyes have evolved to see at a distance in a three dimensional world while the monitor present user with a close up 2D environment. Our effort to keep our eye focused in a closed distance to our PC monitor will cause an eye strain.

    Changing the way we work with our monitor will reduce the possibility of developing eye strain. Our eye will require more effort to discern what on the screen if there is a glare and incorrect positioning of the monitor will cause strain to our eye muscle because we need to maintain an unnatural eye position.

    Readers may refer to our article on how to prevent eye strain and to keep their eye healthy.

    Modify Your Work Habit

    Our work habit increases the chance of us developing Repetitive Strain Injury syndrome and changing our work habit reduces the possibility of developing repetitive strain injury.

    Take Breaks in Your Work

    Sitting too long in front of the computer is one of the major cause of repetitive strain injury. We recommend our readers to install Workrave that reminds us to take micro breaks and perform stretching exercises.

    Less Typing and More Speaking

    Reducing the need to use our hands to perform our computing task will greatly reduce the risk of getting RSI related problem. There are a number of voice recognition software that we can use to perform common computing tasks such as word processing or executing a program.

    We will show you how to use of Windows 7 speech recognition ability to reduce the need of using our hand in executing some computing tasks.

    Windows does not activate its speech recognition function by default, we need to activate the speech recognition function from start menu.

    Windows will ask you to setup the speech recognition configuration if this is the first time you start the speech recognition program. We recommend that readers use a headphone because many people have better experience with the speech recognition software when they use a headphone.

    Windows will also start a tutorial that shows you how to do dictation to your computer. We suggest that readers try out the tutorial to familiarize themselves with how Windows speech recognition works.
    You should see the speech recognition taskbar on your desktop after you started the program.

    These are some useful activity that we can perform using Windows’ speech recognition program.

    1. Opening Programs.

    Windows 7 Speech Recognition Program comes with standard commands to control your computer. We can open some software such as ‘Wordpad’ by saying”Open Wordpad”. You may need to say the command more than once to train windows to recognize your voice.

    We can also close program by saying “Close ” followed by the program name. For example we can close ‘Wordpad’ by saying “Close Wordpad”

    2. Switching Between Programs

    Another useful task that we can acomplish using the speech recognition software is to switch between programs by saying “Switch to ” followed by the specific program name.

    Easy to Use Shortcut keys

    Another common cause of RSI is when use shortcut key combination that require us to stretch our fingers too far. Most of Windows’ software let us modify their default shortcut key combination and we should change those shortcut key combination that make us stretch our fingers too far. This is an example on how we can customize shortcut keys in Word 2010.

    We can access Word’s shortcut key combination from the ‘options’ menu.

    We should see customize button that gives us access to a list of existing short cut keys combination.

    Word display a list of functions on the ‘Categories’ list that are associated with a specific shortcut keys in listed in the ‘Commands’ list. Go through these categories and find those that you use the most and modify the key combination if the combination is too complicated. Place your mouse cursor of your mouse in the ‘Press new shortcut key’ field and press a key combination that is easy too remember and execute for example shift + alt + H to switch to the ‘Home Tab’ of Word.

    Using good hotkeys will also reduce repetitive clicks on the mouse and make your work faster. Here are some useful Microsoft Word hot keys that will you perform common typing task faster:

    1. Ctrl + Shift + F: Change the font.
    2. Ctrl + Shift + > to increase the selected font by 1pt.
    2. Ctrl + Shift + < to decrease the selected font by 1pt.

    Conclusion

    We need to be concious on how we work with our computer to prevent RSI. Setting up a good PC environment and installing software to help us work with the computer easier will help us reduce the risk of developing RSI.

    References:

    Clay Scott’s RSI Page
    PC Review UK
    RSI Prevention
    ergotouch.com
    Princeton Ergonomic Computer Guide
    vertical mouse

Zainul spends his time trying to make technology more productive, whether it’s Microsoft Office applications, or learning to use web applications to save time.

  • Published 10/11/10

Comments (3)

  1. pinguino1

    Great graphic for a good posture. It works for desktops. I notice, for it to work, the screen must be a lot higher than the keyboard. What to do when using laptop all the time?
    Thanks

  2. zfranciscus

    @pinguino Thank you for the question, this is a very good point indeed. Safety Computing Tips advises us to adjust our seat to keep our eye levelled with the laptop screen, or raising the laptop to our eye height using a laptop stand.

  3. Robert Lamb

    I acquired Repetitive Strain Injury in 2009, and early on I upgraded to Windows 7, since it was coming with speech recognition built-in. I started to use Windows 7, and found it pretty useful. However, have you ever needed to click at an spot on your screen, just like a mouse? The only alternative is “mouse grid”, which is awful. I found a tiny add-on called Voice Finger that clicks anywhere on the screen often with a single command. Basically, it is a turbo version of mouse grid, just like the shell extensions of the old days of MS-DOS. I hope this comes in handy for who has RSI.

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