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Repetitive Strain Injury: A Bane for Computer Users

Repetitive Strain Injury: A Bane for Computer Users

1st part of a series.

Lately, I've been feeling some tingling and numbness on my fingers. Also, I felt some pain around my elbow joints, specially  on the tendon on my forearm. I realized that these are already symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury.

Repetitive Strain Injury or RSI has become a common problem in almost any workplace these days specially among computer users. As the number of computer users continue to grow exponentially the number of persons that will soon be affected with Repetitive Strain Injury. The fact the younger generations have started to use computers at much earlier age and they spend more hours in front of the computer than any other activities makes them more susceptible to this injury. What makes matters worse, very few of the computer users are aware of RSI and most likely will mistakenly associate the arm pain to other diseases like arthritis.

What is quite alarming, however this health problem is less recognized and most often ignored until it's too late.   In order to raise the awareness of computer users of this disabling injury, this article is focused on computer related RSI. In order to fully recognize what RSI is and how can a computer user avoid developing it, this article is organized in this manner:
  • The first part covers:
    • the definition, 
    • the symptoms of RSI
    • the effects of RSI once developed.
    • and who is at risk
  • The second part covers  the causes of RSI 
  • and the third part covers   remedy and prevention.

What is RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury?

Repetitive Strain Injury is an injury of the muscular and skeletal system (musculoskeletal system) caused by (as the name implies) repetitive tasks, over exertion, or prolonged or awkward position .
Computer related RSI usually affects any parts, if not all, of the upper body, from the neck down to the lower back including the shoulders down to the wrist. Different areas will actually be affected depending on your work habits.

What are the Symptoms of RSI?

Typical symptoms of RSI could be the following:

  • Tightness, burning sensation or discomfort in the fingers, hands, wrist, forearms or elbows.
  • Soreness or pain in the neck, shoulder, upper and/or lower back
  • Weakness, lack of endurance.
  • Tingling, numbness, or loss of sensation (in the arms and hands)
  • Lack of control or coordination.
  • The pain is worse with activity.
In any case, you may feel at least of the symptoms listed above. In my case, I started to feel tingling sensation on my fingers and pain on my right forearm. The pain on my forearm actually increases every time I drive my motor bike. Occasionally I feel some pain on my neck and shoulder.

What happens if I already have developed RSI?

RSI does not develop overnight, but rather it is developed overtime by repeating certain motion. As the name implies, Repetitive Strain Injury meaning the injury is a result of repeating a certain activity over a long period of time. Thus the development of RSI is long term and gradual. Yet if left untreated it could result to a disability and may require surgery to repair.

An early stage, RSI may felt as pain, aching and tiredness of the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs during work, which improves overnight. At this stage, the pain experienced are often mistakenly contributed to fatigue. The pain may last for weeks or even months but reversible.

In the next stage, the pain, and tiredness will now be recurring in the early hours of the day and may persist throughout the day and even at night and may even disturb the sleep of the sufferer. Swelling of the tendon areas will be visible. 

Advance stage.  This stage is now severe. Pain and fatigue may still be experienced even if the person is well rested. Even doing the slightest task, may be painful for the sufferer. This stage could last for months. In extreme cases surgery may be necessary to repair the damage or worse, the condition is already irreversible.

Who is at risk?

Everyone who does repetitive tasks for a long period of time is always at risk of developing RSI and not computer users only. Not only those who are working with computers but even those who play musical instruments.

A study back in 2008 sates that 68% of workers in UK are suffering from repetitive strain injury.
However there are factors that increases the risk of developing RSI. In the next part of this article the list of common causes of computer related RSI will be discussed. These cause, needless to say, are also the factors that greatly increases the risk of developing RSI. The list that will be presented in the next chapter will be limited to computer related RSI.

Next: RSI Factors: The Causes of Repetitive Strain Injury

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