How To Avoid Repetitive Stress Injuries

Repetitive stress injury (also called repetitive strain injury), can be cause by many different movements of the body if they are repeated with high frequency, as the name suggests.  "Trigger finger" is one, and it doesn't have to involve firearms.  We've all heard of tendonitis, but did you know that tendonitis can develop through repetitive strain?  The term repetitive stress injury, or RSI, is used to describe many different injuries, perhaps the most famous of them being carpal tunnel syndrome.  Despite popular belief, studies suggest that writers who type for long hours at the computer are far more susceptible to other forms of RSI than to carpal tunnel syndrome.  Carpal tunnel or no, we writers incur our fair share of RSI. 

So how do you know if you're suffering from RSI?  You have to visit a doctor in order to be diagnosed, but here are some common symptoms indicating the possibility that you have acquired RSI.

  • Pain in the joints and muscles of the arms, neck, shoulders, back, wrists and/or hands.
  • Tingling sensations or a sense of heat loss.
  • Numbness or a loss of strength in your arms, wrists, hands or shoulders.
  • Soreness and tight feelings when you use muscles in these areas of your upper body.
  • Growing exhaustion in those parts of your body.
  • Difficulty falling asleep due to unpleasant sensations in your arms. 

Repetitive stress injury is no walk in the park.  The pain can quickly become too intense to ignore at work.  Many Americans must miss work every year due to RSI.  Here are some tips for how to avoid repetitive stress injury.

  1. Heed the pain.  Don't be oblivious to the messages your body is sending you.  Do you feel parts of your upper body growing sore or tired?  If so, then take a break!  Writers are often inclined to work through their discomfort for fear of breaking their creative flow.  Does that describe you?  Doesn't it describe all of us?!

    Think about it this way: if you don't occasionally take breaks, ultimately you will lose much more writing time because you have developed RSI.  Remind yourself that your thoughts are not simply going to evaporate into thin air (and if that fear is too strong to overcome, then invest in a tape recorder so you can take down ideas even when taking a break from the typing).  Relax your back, shoulders, wrists and arms in order to recuperate once in a while.  Take some deep breaths.  Your body will thank you by not developing RSI.

  2. Forgetfulness.  Is your excuse that you simply lose track of time and forget to take breaks?  How about using an alarm clock?  Even more conveniently, you can download a program that reminds you to take breaks.  Simply look up "RSI break reminder" online to download a program that will remind you discreetly when it is time for your break.
  3. Wrist posture.  Correct the positioning of your wrist and hands.  Are your wrists straight when you type, or are they angled down or up or to one side?  The wrist is one of those parts of the body that is highly susceptible to RSI, so it's unfortunate that a wrist pad accessory is often required in order to maintain proper wrist posture.  If that's what it takes for you to keep your wrist straight, then don't scoff and dismiss the wrist pad; invest in one!  You can spare a few bucks to avoid a writer's nightmare - the physical inability to write when the inspiration arrives.  
  4. Your greater posture.  Wrist posture is not the only kind of posture that affects RSI.  The posture of your entire body is crucial to maintaining that healthy writer's physique of yours!  Look at that back - slouching, bent downward as you were inexorably drawn toward the computer screen.  Look at those disgraceful, lazily rounded shoulders.  Your mother would be appalled!  You know why?  She knows that this kind of poor posture leads to RSI.  Keep your shoulders square and straighten your spine (yes, that means your neck as well).

    For those of you who find yourselves unable to write in this posture, there are several possible reasons.  It could be that your chair needs adjustment up or down in height, or that you simply need a new, more ergonomically designed chair.  But if you can't work unless you are slouched so close to the computer screen that your back and neck, it's possible that your solution is prescription eyewear to correct your eyesight.  When was the last time you had an eye exam?  Be honest!

  5. Exercise.  One of the contributors to poor posture is muscle weakness.  The greater your muscle strength and endurance, the longer and more effortlessly you can maintain good posture.  And how do we build muscle strength and endurance?  Work out!  Run, play sports, lift weights, swim, do aerobics - whatever physical workout you enjoy, do it more often in order to strengthen the muscles in your upper body.  I'm not suggesting that we writers are not already alarmingly muscular, but... I don't know how to finish that sentence.

The bad news is that many writers are in a prime position to develop repetitive stress injury.  The good news is that RSI is preventable and, if acquired, treatable as well.  But prevention is the best plan, of course, so listen to what your body tells you.  If you are experiencing discomfort, your body is telling you to make the proper adjustments.  Poor posture is easy to develop and always harder to break.  If your posture is poor, then you're at risk of developing RSI.  Now is the time to take the necessary steps to avoid RSI. 


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