How to Protect yourself from RSI

What are Computer Related Injuries?
Computer related injuries cover a wide variety of health problems caused by or contributed to by computer usage. These can be broadly divided in to three groups.

1) Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
2) Back Problems
3) Eye Strain & Discomfort

1) Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
Also known as Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULD) this is a non medical term used to describe the many types of disorders associated with performing the same repetitive task, especially in an awkward posture, over a prolonged period of time.

RSI is not a modern problem. In 1713 the Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini recorded that the incessant hand movements of clerks caused “maladies”. In the 1840’s there was an epidemic of writers cramp among service clerks in London.

The term RSI was introduced in Australia in the 1970’s with the introduction of VDU’s in to the workplace.

The two most common forms of RSI are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Tendon Injuries

i) Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by irritation and compression of the median nerve at the wrist. Constant flexing and compression of the wrist causes compression of the median nerve, eventually transforming into fibrosis (tough inflexible tissue). This can lead to constant pain in the wrist, numbness and pins and needles which may prevent full mobility in the hand.

ii) Tendon Injuries
Tendon injuries come in two forms:

Inflammation of tendons. Repeated tensing of a tendon causes inflammation. Eventually, the fibres of the tendon start separating, and can even break, leaving behind debris which induces more friction, more swelling, and more pain. “Sub-acute” tendonitis is more common, which entails a dull ache over the wrist and forearm, some tenderness, which gets worse with repetitive activity.

An inflammation of the tendon sheath. Chronic tenosynovitis occurs when the repetitive activity is mild or intermittent: not enough to cause acute inflammation, but enough to exceed the tendon sheath’s ability to lubricate the tendon. As a result, the tendon sheath thickens, gets inflamed, and causes pain.

Both of the above cause pain with movement of the fingers. Pain is also felt over the top of the hands and knuckles as the condition worsens, possibly even leading to a burning sensation in the forearm.

The effects of RSI can be debilitating. The following experiences are not uncommon amongst chronic sufferers.

“After 8 years in programming and 2 as a manager, I was diagnosed in 1991 with early stage bilateral carpal tunnel after numbness and heaviness in my left hand and loss of strength in my right. Therapy increased my strength and allowed me to functions somewhat, but it increased the pain tenfold. I continued working the entire time, with light duty and a lot of frustration and pain. My pain was in my forearms, it was a burning ache and constant pain. I couldn’t write much at work or home, my house was a constant mess, squeezing out shampoo or cutting my meat was extremely difficult, I couldn’t even clap my hands, coming to work each day in pain was a chore in itself, and my kids had to learn to live with my many limitations.” – an RSI sufferer

The incidence of RSI is increasing rapidly. A 1998 TUC survey states that RSI has increased by 22% in the last two years. Over 100,000 computer operators are affected by RSI every year and one in three workplaces are affected. These are startling statistics leading to claims that RSI will be the industrial plague of the 21st century.

RSI is very easy to prevent. Unfortunately it is very hard to cure. Preventative measures are more cost effective and work. Curative measures are unreliable and extremely expensive.

2) Back Problems
Musculoskeletal back problems are the largest cause of disability amongst people of working age. 30% of adults become chronic sufferers. The highest incidences of back pain are found in workers whose jobs are entirely sedentary or entirely manual.

The human body is not designed to remain in a sedentary position for long periods of time. Unfortunately most VDU users do occupy sedentary positions for the majority of their working day. The sedentary position occupied whilst using a computer is not good for a users back and many office workers suffer from back pain. The problem is exacerbated if the user has a low general level of fitness.

There is a common misconception that it is only secretary’s and data entry clerks that suffer from back pain through sitting at their desk for too long. Back pain does not discriminate and there are sufferers throughout the office hierarchy.

A director of an international accountancy firm developed shoulder and neck pain two years ago from sitting at a computer all day. The pain started to cause loss of sleep and an inability to carry out normal household tasks or pick up her toddler. Changed working practices would have prevented this problem occurring. They are now helping reduce the pain experienced.

3) Eye Strain & Discomfort
People who use VDUs for extended periods of time can suffer from tired eyes, discomfort and head aches. “70% of display screen operators complain at some stage in their working lives of discomfort around the eye region.” (Dr Janet Voke, The Safety and Health Practitioner July 1998) Staring at a screen can lead to a drop in blink rate causing dry eye. Undertaking more demanding tasks with your eyes can cause headaches and users may become aware of an eyesight problem they had not noticed before. There is no evidence that using VDUs causes permanent damage to eyes. The impact of any serious injury caused at work creates a dramatically negative effect on the overall performance of the company itself. Pain experienced at work immediately affects both the morale and the productivity of employees. Loss of morale on the part of the injured employee in the workplace linked to working practices often creates a ripple effect throughout the company resulting in a discontented work force. Productivity decreases.



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