Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to prevent Repetitive Stress Injury while working on computer long hours?

Last year, I posted an article on this blog How to keep your eyes healthy while working on computer long hours?, which drew much attention from the blog readers. Per one of the visitors’ request, I am would like to continue investigation the topic of the proper ergonomic arrangement, while working on the computer. Impact on your eyes is just one of the negative factors, you are experiencing, while working on your PC for long hours. How to minimize it and make your work environment as safe as it can be?


Average computer user performs 50,000 to 200,000 keystrokes a day. Making so many repetitive movements can contribute to the related health issues, and even lead to the significant health impairment in some cases. Uncomfortable seating and awkward wrist movements can also add to overuse injuries. These injuries take time to develop, and extensive computer use can hasten them. Symptoms may include numbness, soreness, pain, fatigue, discomfort and eyestrain.

What is Repetitive Stress Injury?

Repetitive Stress Injury is a kind of catch all phrase for many conditions. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tenosynovitis / DeQuervain's Syndrome, Tendonitis, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Trigger Finger, Myofascial Pain Syndrome and Chronic Sprain / Strain are some of the actual diagnosis that be diagnosed among computer users.

All of these conditions are serious and in many cases can cause great pain, permanent disability and sometimes loss of employment.

Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI) occur from repetitive movements involving a specific set of muscles and joints. RSI injuries are the result of an accumulation of stress and strain that causes irritation, inflammation, and eventually pain or other disability. Initially, RSI affects the soft tissues of the involved joint(s). Soft tissues include muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons. However, if left untreated for long periods of time, the involved joint can become arthritic and form bone spurs resulting in permanent damage to the joint.

The constant demand of keyboarding and mousing combined with the postural stress of confinement in an office chair with one's neck and back held in prolonged fixed positions has resulted in an epidemic of injuries that includes hand pain, wrist pain, arm pain, neck pain, back pain and shoulder pain.

Common Symptoms

The brief list of the common symptoms, associated with RSI, caused from computer use:
  • Tightness, discomfort, stiffness, soreness or burning in the hands, wrists, fingers, forearms, or elbows
  • Tingling, coldness, night pain or numbness in the hands, especially around the base of the thumb
  • Clumsiness or loss of strength in the hands
  • Pain in the neck, shoulders, wrists, hands or back that is associated with using the computer

Computer Ergonomics

The work place is often seen as the place with the lowest risk of injury; as opposed to injuries from outdoor activities like basketball, tennis, skydiving etc. This could not be further from the truth. Musculoskeletal disorders that cause great discomfort can develop if the proper ergonomic guidelines are not taken into consideration.

Desktop Ergonomics

If you use a desktop, these are the computer ergonomics factors to consider such as visibility, chair, monitor, desk, keyboard, mouse, for maximum ergonomic benefit.

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1. Incandescent light is preferred over fluorescent lighting (less strain on the eyes)
2. Glare on the screen and the rest of the environment is not recommended
3. Task lighting is not recommended for computer use.


The most suitable chair is the one that allows the user to adjust to his/her ergonomic sweet spot. Ensure the following,
1. Backrest or ergonomic back supports provides support for your lower back (lumbar area).
2. Seat width and depth accommodate the specific user (seat pan not too big/small).
3. Seat front does not press against the back of your knees and lower legs (seat pan not too long).
4. Seat has cushioning and is rounded with a "waterfall" front (no sharp edge).
5. Ergonomic-Arm-rests, if used, support both forearms while you perform computer tasks and they do not interfere with movement.
6. Thighs have sufficient clearance space between the top of the thighs and your computer table/keyboard platform (thighs are not trapped).
7. Legs and feet have sufficient clearance space under the work surface so you are able to get close enough to the keyboard/input device.
8. A Footstool is used if your feet are not touching the floor, when your knees at a somewhat right angle

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1. Top of the screen is at or below eye level so you can read it without bending your head or neck down/back. Place the center of the screen at a 15 degree down angle from your eyes
2. User with bifocals/trifocals can read the screen without bending the head or neck backward.
3. Monitor distance as far away as possible but still allows you to read the screen without leaning your head, neck or trunk forward/backward.
4. Monitor position is directly in front of you so you don't have to twist your head or neck.
5. Glare (for example, from windows, lights) is not reflected on your screen which can cause you to assume an awkward posture to clearly see information on your screen. Position the monitor to minimize glare by placing it at a right angle to light sources or windows.
6. Set the refresh rate at a minimum of 70 Hz to limit flicker.


Sufficient space is allowed to easily read hardcopy material close to you while working with the computer.


1. Keyboard/input device platform(s) is stable and large enough to hold a keyboard and an input device.
2. Wrists and hands do not rest on sharp or hard edges.
3. The keyboard should be positioned at or below the elbow to keep the wrist aligned with the forearm or at a slightly negative angle. Keyboard tray is recommended for such purposes.
4. Keep your fingers relaxed while typing. Use a soft touch on the keyboard instead of pounding keys with unnecessary force. Relax your fingers and hands between bursts of typing.
5. Familiarize yourself with keyboard shortcuts for applications you regularly use (to avoid overusing the mouse).


1. Input device (mouse or trackball) is located right next to your keyboard so it can be operated without reaching and at the same level as the keyboard.
2. Input device is easy to activate and the shape/size fits your hand (not too big/small).
3. Wrists and hands do not rest on sharp or hard edges.

When the mouse is being operated at a distance that makes the operator reach, the shoulder extends forward and the shoulder blade abducts (rotates forward). This position stretches the muscle groups that connect the medial portion of your shoulder blade to your spine and the superior portion of your shoulder blade to your neck. In the short term, this stretch aggravates the affected muscle groups causing spasm, fatigue, headaches and stiffness in the neck and shoulder. In the long term, this position creates a condition called a "stretch weakness" resulting in muscular imbalance, trigger points and chronic variations of the conditions listed in the prior sentence.

Placing the mouse too far away, too low, or too much on one side can cause shoulder, wrist, elbow, and forearm discomfort. When the operator is forced to reach for the mouse, his / her body weight shifts forward and ultimately results in weight bearing stress on the extended arm. Spending prolonged periods of time leaning on an extended arm is an unnatural and destructive posture that will eventually lead to the development of a repetitive stress syndrome; likely resulting disorders would include tendonitis of the wrist, elbow or shoulder.

Computer Posture

Get a suitable, height adjustable, chair.
  1. Sit far back in with your back touching the back support.
  2. Adjust the height of your chair by its function such that when you 'type' your elbows are at a right angle.
  3. Check your feet. Make a right angle with your knees. Are your feet touching the ground? If not, get a foot stool to adjust your foot rest until your knees make a right angle like your elbows.
  4. Look straight and your computer monitor screen should be at eye level or slightly under eye level to prevent neck strain.
  5. Adjust your monitor's height.
  6. Practice good posture; do not slump in your seat.

Frequent Rest Breaks

The body is not designed to sit still, even in correct position, for long periods of time. Some individuals find that using a computer extensively can cause discomfort, so regular pauses are not a waste of time. Change your seated position occasionally, stand up or stretch whenever you start to feel tired. Depending upon your work and environment, you may want to take breaks. It is generally recommended regular breaks from working at your computer for a few minutes at least once an hour.

Basic stretching exercises can help keep limber the joints and muscles you use when you sit at a computer. Some examples:
  • General: Stand up and stretch your arms over your head.
  • Neck: Tilt your head to one side (ear to shoulder); hold; relax; repeat on other side.
  • Shoulders: Slowly bring shoulders up to the ears and hold briefly.
  • Wrist: Hold arm straight out in front of you; pull hand backwards with other hand, then pull downward; hold; relax; repeat with other hand.

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1 comment:

Kelly said...

Thank you for this post. I am going in for an MRI at Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists. Once the results are in I will meet with my doctor. Because of your information I have so many questions to ask him. I'll make sure to check back regularly to see if you can help me anymore!

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