How to avoid RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury)

Many of us spend too much time sitting in front of a computer, often while seated in a poorly designed chair and/or a poorly designed desk space. Here are some tips for avoiding repetitive strain injury (RSI) and/or surgery.

  • Put the mouse as the same level as the keyboard. I still see many many people with the mouse on the desk. This will kill your shoulder and elbow because of the repetitive strain of moving your arm up and down. Unless you like rotator cuff surgery, put the mouse next to the keyboard, even if you have to hack some sort of tray extension.
  • And while it should not need to be mentioned, you need to get the keyboard off the desk and onto an adjustable keyboard trayideally with four axis adjustment: in/out, up/down, left/right, and tilt angle. Tilt angle is very important for RSI and wrist problems; you should have a small negative tilt (downward slope) on the keyboard.
  • You need a palm rest, either integrated into the keyboard, or a foam extension that you place at the base of the keyboard. Your palms/wrists should not rest on any kind of edge. I see many keyboard trays with a thin metal lip placed on the edge to keep the keyboard in place, but these often stick up just enough to dig into your wrist. Over time, this continually pinching of nerves in your wrist will lead to pain and RSI.
  • Get a good chair. If you are experiencing back pain, while it could be related to keyboard problems, it is more likely related to posture (which is severely aggravated if your keyboard is on the table). Any chair that costs less than $500 is usually inadequate. I have NEVER seen a properly designed chair in places like OfficeMax or Staples, at any price. Many of you will be disappointed to hear that, but it is true. Good chairs have carefully engineered support, and more levers rarely translates into a better chair. Good chairs tend to run $650-$800, and I would recommend the Freedom chair. It has very few adjustments but is extremely well designed. If you think an $800 chair is an extravagance, consider that it will last ten years or more, and if your livelihood is sitting in front of a computer or at a desk all day, it is a lot cheaper than surgery on your wrists or back.
  • If you have back pain, you need a different chair. Note that the Aeron chair is highly overrated. While it broke new ground, it has two major problems: 1) the breathable fabric is like sandpaper and will ruin your clothes, especially if you keep anything in your back pockets (like a wallet), 2) the front edge of the chair, although designed with an appropriate downward slope, has a rigid edge that digs into your thighs and cuts blood flow to your legsthis is inexcusable.
  • Keyboardsa split, contoured keyboard is a must. It only feels odd for 2-3 days, and then you don't notice it anymore. There are many good one, but my favorite is the Datadesk Smartboard. It is one of only a very few keyboards that actually make the keys farther from the centerline bigger, so it is easier to hit them. In other words, the "O" and "P" keys are wider than the "G" and "H" keys.
  • Most mice are poorly designed. They require a fairly tight grip to be usable, and this is often where RSI sets in. Most people don't realize how muscle stress and strain, continued over days and weeks, even the small amount of force required to grip a mouse, can damage muscles. A good mouse will require NO gripping pressure to use it. This is very hard to understand until you use a mouse that does not require gripping pressure. I've used a Contour Design Perfit mouse for nearly a decade. It's big, but a pleasure to use. The Perfit mouse is one of a very few mice that can be ordered in different sizes for different size hands--important for women and for larger men.
  • Finally, few doctors know a darn thing about any of this stuff, and are often too eager to recommend surgery. The stats on RSI surgery are very grim--surgery often makes the problem MUCH WORSE. There is a huge bundle of nerves passing through the muscle sheath on your wrist, and going in there and hacking away is extremely risky. Surgery should be a last resort only after spending as much as needed on better furniture and giving your body time to repair itself.

Good furniture and the right tools is usually cheaper than surgery, too.

Technology News: