Tips To Avoid & Help Cure RSI or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Do not ignore pain in the fingers/wrist thinking it will go away, get better, or “is not too bad”. You may be getting a serious problem called repetitive strain injury. RSI is much more easily cured in the early stages, but may require surgery or drastic action in latter stages.
First, the facts
Repetitive Strain Injury (often confused with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) is a problem faced by many people who spend long hours at computer desks or doing repetitive jobs with their hands. Symptoms include numbing pain in the wrist, difficulty grabbing small items, pain while typing, inflamed muscles and tendons around the wrist and fingers and other types of pain which may come and go, appear only sometimes, and may also go away after a while or get worse.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is often confused with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Actually, there is little evidence to show that typing for long hours at a computer increases your chances of getting CTS. RSI is much more common for computer users, and can be avoided, treated, and helped with a few tips. Remember that everyone’s personal situation may be different. It is important to have a doctor (preferably a specialist) take a look at your condition, in addition to taking simple measures to help prevent and treat this painful disease.
It is more likely for women, compared to men, to get CTS, and is most often found among assembly line workers. RSI affects a large section of the population, and is easily avoidable and curable with a little sensible workplace planning. The three primary causes or risk factors for RSI are poor posture, poor technique and overuse.
For more information on RSI:
- http://www.stat.rice.edu/~cscott/rsi.html (comprehensive, long article with everything you need to know)
Quick tips to avoid, cure, or help treat RSI
- Get in the right posture. The most important posture requirement I’ve found from my personal experience is having the keyboard at the same level as your elbows.
- Take frequent breaks to stretch, move your arms, or even walk around. This can help reduce stress, and prevent RSI. One easily forgets to do this when absorbed in work, so use a reminder of some sort. An excellent software for this purpose is Workrave, an open-source software which can remind you to take micro breaks, rest breaks, and even set a daily time limit. The micro-breaks will have a little reminder pop onto your screen in addition to a timer to tell how long you should stretch, move your hand and rest your head back a little. It may get a little intrusive (by preventing you from typing during a micro-break), but the preferences are highly adjustable, and the need for a reminder is critical.
- Try these stress relieving excersises and stretches during your breaks. Simple exercises include pressing your palms gently on your closed eyes (not hard, just lightly), taking a look out the window, taking natural breaths and rolling your shoulder joints.
- Type less! No, seriously, avoid typing and unnecessary computer use. Go do something physical outside. Avoid waste-of-time activities on the computer.
- Use wrist braces while sleeping and typing. Find ones which are stiff and comfortable. This may make a HUGE difference in the pain – some people report reduced pain in less than 10 minutes after using wrist braces.
- Stress is a large contributor to RSI. Eat healthy, exercise, and relieve stress for a better overall life, not just computing experience.
- Try floating your hands over the keyboard and moving the entire to press the hard-to-reach keys. Once you get used to this floating movement, it can help severely reduce the pain in typing.
- Try changing your keyboard and mouse to different ergonomic styles. One keyboard/mouse with high reviews is the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 7000. Some may find the mouse unsuitable though. When one keyboard/mouse type gets painful, switch to another, then switch back after a while. This MAY help reduce repetitive motion and strain on the same muscles.
- If you are a programmer or person who might be heavily typing for the rest of your life, consider learning the Dvorak layout keyboard, which may often have better speed, less strain on fingers, and is more programmer-friendly.
- Alternative medical treatments often work for RSI because of its stress and exercise related nature. Acupuncture, tai-chi, yoga, and other treatments often work for many people.
- Cod Liver Oil often works better than prescription medicines for relieving muscle strain according to some people. No harm in taking it anyway.
Remember that everyone’s personal case is different, and a different combination of techniques will work for different people. Always see a specialist if the pain gets worse, or stays with you even after a long time since you last typed.