Guide for Young People: How to Avoid RSI

This is intended as a brief guide for young people, to make them aware that using computers with a keyboard and mouse, playing on games consoles, and texting on mobile phones can cause repetitive strain injuries. Read the equipment instruction manual – play hunt the RSI warning, it’s usually in very small print. Children as young as seven have been known to develop Diffuse RSI. Some students taking GCSEs and A-levels cannot write their own exam papers due to RSI, and have to rely upon dictating answers to teachers. It is quite common for students at university to find that writing their dissertation results in chronic RSI.Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a general term covering a variety of medical conditions which happen due to over-strain, such as writer’s cramp or tendonitis.Repetitive action is when you do the same movement over and over again, for long periods of time, when it causes first of all strain, and then injury. Which is why we call it Repetitive Strain Injury.

It is similar to a sports injury, so if for instance, while running and your leg was sprained, you wouldn’t run on it until it was better and the pain went away, and the muscles had recovered from the injury.

Similar things can happen with your hands and arms, so be careful not to over use them in the same old way if they feel “sprained” it is important to rest them and seek treatment.

The combination of repetitive movements, poor posture, and over use of computers, games consoles and mobile phone texting/games-playing, without taking rest breaks, can cause injury to the nerves, muscles and tendons, in the fingers, hands, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders, and neck, which if ignored, may lead to long-term damage.

Bad habits in the way you sit, use or misuse your body, or don’t exercise, can cause problems, as you get older. Be aware and listen to what your body is saying – a whisper is a warning to take care – a shout is a definite cry for help because of damage done already.

Never, ever, ignore these symptoms as long-term damage can happen.

Be very aware of stiffness, sharp pain or dull ache, numbness or tingling, or poor grip, which may come on after a heavy session on the computer using either the keyboard or the mouse, or when using a pen, or with thumb movements when using a Games Console, or when texting on a mobile phone.

Try to take breaks between hand activities, of a few minutes each half-hour or ten minutes each hour. Massage your hands and arms to restore the circulation and refresh the muscles and tendons. Flex your fingers, and stretch your arms out to the side, above your head, then to your sides, keeping your spine straight. This applies at home or at school – if possible.

Do warm up exercises – the same as when you do before. Gentle exercise can only help.

Checklist at the Computer
* Be aware that laptop computers force you into a hunched position and force the hands into a claw like position.

* Check your body position – straighten up and flex and move – try not to get “lost in time and space” for hours on end.

* Don’t sprawl in the chair, or twist your spine, or crane your neck

* Is your chair height adjustable and is the back support adjustable?

* Is the desk or table height suitable and comfortable, is there enough space for your legs under the desk?

* Do you need a footrest?

* Is the monitor at the proper viewing distance for you (usually 60cm from your eyes)?

* Is the monitor straight in front of you (correct), instead of off to the side (incorrect)?

* Is it positioned to avoid glare/reflection?

* Is there enough desk space for the keyboard and space for your hands and forearms to rest, while you check your work?

* Do you use a paper holder or is there enough space for your work papers?

* Is there enough desk space for you to use the mouse in the central position, or to change hands, to avoid developing “mouse arm” (stiffness, numbness and pain) caused by holding one arm rigidly out to one side and clutching the mouse in a claw-like position.

Checklist for Games Consoles
* When using a games console do you sit hunched over it with your head tilted back gazing at the screen? And are your hands and arms rigid with the thumbs/ fingers moving at speed?

* Take a break and move around to give your hands, arms, neck, shoulders, and your eyes a change of scene.

Checklist for Mobile Phones
* Be aware that by using a mobile phone and holding it in one hand, with that hand in a claw position, and when moving the thumb rapidly over the keypad, puts an enormous strain on tendons in the arm.

* In between times, massage your hand and thumb, and rotate your hands at the wrists, in clockwise and anticlockwise directions. If it already hurts to text, use the fingers of the other hand or the end of a pen to press the keypad, reduce using your phone, and get medical help.

Should you feel any of these symptoms

* Keep a diary of any aches and pains, and when, and for how long you use the equipment.

* Tell your parents or teacher, or school nurse to help you contact your doctor, who may refer you to hospital for physiotherapy.

* But remember – prevention is better than cure – you only have one body & one life.

© 2011 RSI Action…

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