How you can prevent repetitive strain injuries

Repetitive strain injuries include a number of specific disorders. One of the most well known is carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful wrist condition caused by a pinched nerve that can lead to hand pain, numbness and weakness.

In general, repetitive strain refers to any injury that results from overuse of a body part to perform a repetitive task, or from sustained and awkward positions. Most often, repetitive strain injuries happen on the job.

Among those professions with the highest risk of repetitive strain are those which require the use of computers. These injuries usually result from poor posture while sitting at a desk and from repeatedly performing tasks like typing and using a mouse.

It may seem strange that something as simple as clicking a mouse could cause so much damage, but repetitive strain injuries can be serious. Back and shoulder pain are among the most common repetitive strain symptoms.

If you've been feeling tenderness, stiffness, cramping or pain in these areas, especially after spending time at a computer, you may be experiencing the symptoms of a repetitive strain injury.

The back aches and shoulder pain associated with repetitive strain may be caused by a number of factors. Treatment and prevention may involve changing several work habits and/or your workspace set-up.

Overuse of hands and arms

The small, fine movements we use to type and click a mouse can cause pain in the wrists and hands. When these tasks are repeated hour after hour, day after day, thousands of times without regular rest, the effects start to add up.

Strain to the muscles and tendons of the wrists and hands can produce painful symptoms.

Likewise, sitting in one position for a long time when viewing a monitor can strain muscles in the shoulders and neck.

Tips: Regularly stretch your arms, wrists and fingers. Get up and walk around if muscle fatigue occurs in order to avoid possible strain and injury.

Poor posture

Sitting in a slumped or awkward position, especially while working at a computer, can strain the upper body, causing back and shoulder pain.

Tips: When seated at a desk, feet should be flat on the floor with knees directly over them. The lower back should be fully supported. Arms and shoulders should be relaxed at your side with your head level or bent slightly forward.

Also remember to configure your workstation to keep frequently used objects within easy reach.

Poor technique

We may know how to use keyboards, laptops and mobile devices - but knowing how to use them properly may prevent injury.

Tips: When using a laptop, use a separate keyboard and mouse and make sure the screen is positioned at head height on a stable base - not your lap.

When typing, remember to keep your wrists straight and avoid resting your wrists on the keyboard. Keep the mouse as close to you as possible. Using keyboard shortcuts can also help to reduce the typing burden and prevent muscle strain.

When using mobile devices to send emails, avoid typing long messages and rest thumbs regularly. Do not carry on with any activity that causes pain, and take breaks regularly to relieve upper body tension.

Another way to reduce your overall risk of getting a repetitive strain injury is to spend your time away from your desk engaged in physical activity. A study has shown that people who are active during their leisure hours have fewer work-related repetitive strain injuries.

Preventive exercises


Side Neck Stretch

The Side Neck Stretch is a simple exercise that helps stretch the muscles along the side of your neck.

1. Begin by facing forward, looking straight ahead.

2. Tilt your head toward one side, gently pushing your ear toward your shoulder.

3. Now hold that position for 15 seconds.

4. Lift your head back to its normal, upright position.

5. Relax, and repeat three times on each side.

Always consult your doctor before starting a fitness programme, especially if you have been inactive or have any health concerns. Remember to stop if you feel any pain. If in doubt, always consult your healthcare professional.

Neck Roll

The Neck Roll can be a simple exercise for stretching the muscles in and around your neck.

1. Begin with your head straight, looking forward

2. Very gently tip your head to the left

3. Next, gently roll your head back so that your eyes are facing the ceiling.

4. With your head still back, begin to gently roll your head to the right.

5. Finish the movement by rolling your head down and then bringing it back up to the starting position.

Shoulder Flexion (assistive, seated)

The Shoulder Flexion exercise is a simple stretch that can help your flexibility and shoulder range of motion.

1. Perform this exercise while seated.

2. Clasp your hands together and lift your arms above your head.

3. Keep your elbows as straight as possible.

4. Repeat 10 to 20 times.

5. Perform three sessions a day - you can alternate your motions by only lifting one arm at a time.

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