Thursday 5 February 2015 7:49 pm

No pain, no strain: How to avoid RSI

Get up from your desk, don’t ignore the niggles and make more tea for your colleagues.

Blackberry Thumb, iPhone 5-itis and MacBook Back. At the moment, only one of these terms  (BlackBerry Thumb) is an existing neologism, but they could all be used to describe an increasingly common issue among today’s office workers: Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). 
Every day, six people in the UK leave their jobs due to RSI, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Sitting behind our desks, many of us peer down at our screens, resembling a strange inversion of any neck-stretching tourist visiting the Sistine Chapel’s famous painted ceiling. 
But what can we do to avoid RSI? Commonly effecting the fingers, neck and arms, it is an easily developed condition. Similarly, a basic awareness of RSI means it can be easily avoided. Here, City A.M. runs through some of the best ways to keep you free from any aching limbs.


“Motion is lotion” is the one of the phrases used by Richmond Stace, a Chelsea-based physiotherapist specialising in persisting pain, to help prevent RSI. Many office workers have grown up using desktop computers, he says, which has led to a large number developing touch typing skills. These non-stop, minute movements in our fingers, though, are precisely what cause RSI. Instead of typing constantly and sitting slouched in front of our computers hour after hour, Stace recommends taking regular breaks and, most importantly, moving any body parts that might become painful.
“It’s absolutely vital that we move around,” he says. “RSI symptoms can start anywhere in the fingers, neck and back. As time goes on, the area of sensitivity gets wider. If people were to get into the habit of moving their hands, arms, heads and necks on a regular basis, that would certainly be one way to reduce the risk of RSI.” 


As a nation, we are quietly proud of our reserve and stoicism — but we should never let ourselves keep quiet over RSI.
Every weekend, athletes are rested to protect niggling injuries that, if  put under further physical strain, could develop into something far more serious. Why should we have a different attitude towards RSI in the workplace?   
“Generally, we have a culture of people not sorting things out early on,” says Stace. “A lot of people think, ‘oh, I need to do my work,’ or they don’t want to report the pain because they are concerned about what might happen to them — or that it will sort itself out by next week, but, in the end, that doesn’t help”.
In 2010, an American mortgage banker had to undergo surgery on one of her thumb tendons, having used her iPhone to communicate with her clients for up to 12 hours a day.
After the operation, the banker was faced with a two-month recovery period. With this case in mind, dealing early with any RSI symptoms (pain, aching and/or stiffness) may result in you spending far less time off work than if you leave the problem to worsen. 


If you already have symptoms of RSI, and you really do have to get your work done, you may want to consider investing in some anti-RSI technology to maintain your productivity level.
We have all probably seen, at some point, the strange ergonomic keyboards and computer  mouses designed to reduce joint pain. 
Yet while these devices can be useful, high quality voice recognition software could provide a pain-free working day for anyone suffering from RSI in their fingers, wrist or lower arms.
“The advice on equipment should be done on an individual basis,” says Stace. “A lot of what is written about ergonomics is absolute rubbish, particularly when it comes to posture.”
Paradoxically, there is no ideal posture, he says. Even sitting at our desks with a rigid spine could eventually lead to RSI symptoms. If you want to avoid painful limbs, doing the next tea run may well be a good idea.

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