Originally written in 2007, this article on RSI / CTS by Ankesh Kothari was first written on the site DumbLittleMan. Since the same is no longer on the web, this is being reproduced by me with permission from Ankesh. Video at the end wasn’t part of the original article.
I first experienced RSI 3 years ago. Because I make my living online and have to sit at the computer 6 hours everyday, I couldn’t just take a long vacation and wait for my body to heal itself. I researched a lot and asked a lot of questions. With trial and error, I found some simple changes that could help decrease the risk of RSI.
What is RSI?
RSI is the dreaded abbreviation that stands for Repetitive Strain Injury. It occurs because of repeated physical movements and affects the nerves, tendons, muscles and other soft tissues. If you sit on your computer regularly, the repetition of thousands of keystrokes and prolonged use of the mouse can cause RSI to you too.
Symptoms of RSI
Most computer users experience tightness, stiffness or soreness of hands, wrists, fingers, forearms and shoulders. Many also experience burning sensations. It’s not life threatening but it’s very discomforting and painful. It can also prevent you from doing your work and enjoying your life.
Scary Fact: 10% of all computer users will suffer from RSI one time or another.
Scary Fact 2: Doctors can’t cure RSI. There is no magic pill that you can take which will make the RSI go away. RSI can only be cured by stopping the repetitive action that caused it in the first place. And even then, it may take weeks.
Note: The first time I experienced a burning sensation in my wrists 3 years back, I did take some time off. I then started using these tips gradually and my wrists were functional again. Since then, I haven’t faced long bouts of RSI again. It shows up now and then but usually goes away in a day or so.
Get a Wireless Keyboard.
If you spend a lot of time on your computer, it is essential that you invest in a wireless keyboard. Most problems arise because the desk where the keyboard and the mouse lie is too high or too low for you. And hence your typing posture wrong and your hands and wrists suffer.
A $30-50 wireless keyboard from Logitech is good enough.
Learn to Type Properly
Position your hands correctly while typing. Shift your chair a bit behind and tilt the backside of your keyboard (the side away from you) a bit downwards so that your wrists aren’t crunched or bent to the side.
Use the Mouse Properly
Similar to using your keyboard, make sure that your wrists aren’t bent a lot while you use your mouse too. Placing the mouse next to your keyboard in easy reach is a good idea. Another tip is: make sure you hold the mouse lightly. Don’t hold it with a strong grip.
Use Voice Recognition Software
Why type when you can speak? Voice recognition software will considerably lessen your typing load. On top of that, it’ll also improve your productivity because you can speak faster than you can type.
“Dragon Naturally Speaking” is a good voice recognition software. And sells at around $100. One caveat: the software does have a learning curve. And you will be spending a lot more time initially training yourself to type using the software.
Schedules & Breaks
Repetition is what kills your tissue. So take frequent breaks to give your hands some relief. Many people recommend taking 20 second breaks every 20 minutes. That is very impractical. You won’t remember taking breaks every 20 minutes and you’ll never build a work rhythm with breaks that frequent. I recommend taking a short break every 2 hours and and mixing in other tasks. If you are on the computer for the first 2 hours, pick up phone related work for the next two. If you have to type a lot for the first 2 hours, schedule a report reading work during the next 2.
Smart scheduling is the way to go to get your work done without the strain due to repetition.
Keep Your Hands Warm
Cold increases RSI considerably. Make sure your air conditioning isn’t too powerful and your room isn’t too cold. If you feel your hands going cold or numb, take a break immediately and rub them to warm them up.
Shoot some hoops. Basketball is a superb game to play if you have RSI. Because it keeps your wrists in motion and your hands warm – without the strain that repetition brings with it. It loosens your wrists a lot and is a lot of fun too.
Use these hacks to keep your hands safe and RSI away.
Also see this video: