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Reports of Repetitive Stress Injuries (or R.S.I.'s) have increased more than four hundred percent in the last seven years. More and more people are finding themselves victim to the recurring discomfort of nerve and musculosketal disorders. Most physicians agree, computer users are the main source of increase. It's not owning a computer that is unhealthy of course, but rather, the way in which you're using your computer.

What causes Repetitive Stress Injury?

R.S.I.'s are most commonly caused by repeated physical movements, such as working in a single position for long periods of time.

What are the symptoms of R.S.I.?

Feelings of pain, throbbing, aching, tingling, numbness, burning and stiffness are all indicators of possible Repetitive Stress Injury, even if they don't occur while you are working. The presence of symptoms does not always mean you suffer from R.S.I., but should be taken as a warning sign to visit a health professional and adjust your work atmosphere accordingly.

What types of disorders are associated with R.S.I.'s?

The list of ailments is lengthy, but the most common end result of R.S.I.'s include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendonitis, Tenosynovitis, Bursitis and eyestrain. All forms of R.S.I.'s can cause permanent damage that is often irreversible, even with treatment.

Are there ways to prevent R.S.I.'s?

Yes. As with most things, preventing Repetitive Stress Injury is much easier than treating it. There are numerous steps you can take to prevent the onset of serious muscle and nerve disorders. The simplest and most effective way is to make your workspace ergonomically sound. Ergonomics is the science of adjusting one's work environment to fit one's body.

Do I need to buy special equipment to make my office ergonomically correct?

No. While there are a variety of products you can purchase to ease muscle tension, it is not usually necessary to invest any additional funds into making your area a safer environment in which to work and play.

There are general guidelines that you can follow that will help to alleviate any stress your body may feel from extended use behind your computer.

KEYBOARD AND MOUSE Most R.S.I. are caused by keyboard and mouse usage. The muscles and tendons you work to click the mouse and type are rarely used, and as a result, feel more strain than other areas of your body.

You can alleviate the possibility of added wrist strain by placing your mouse and keyboard directly in front of you, on the same level. (Keyboard pullout drawers allow extra space for this.) Never grip your mouse tightly. Avoid bending your wrists up and down or from side to side while operating your mouse or keyboard. Use keyboard legs if they will help you maintain straight wrist positioning comfortably. Your arms should form a straight line, but remain relaxed. When possible, learn keyboard shortcuts and use them in place of common mouse clicks. This will help to reduce the pressure on already tired muscles in both your hands and wrists.

Never rest your wrists on anything. Some newer ergonomic keyboards and mousepads do offer a wrist rest. This is to be used in between typing sessions, not while typing or operating the mouse. Hands should always float above both the keyboard and mouse.

MONITOR Position your monitor so that it is at arms length (at least twenty-five inches), directly in front of you. The top of the monitor should be at eye level. Placing the monitor off to one side often leads to neck and shoulder strain. Also, be certain to place your monitor away from sources of lighting, including windows and doors. Check for monitor glare. You can do this by turning the monitor off and watching for your reflection in the monitor glass. Can you see a glare? Do you see your own reflection? Are there other sources of sharp light reflected on the screen? If so, adjust your monitor and lighting accordingly. The best source of lighting for long term use is a combination of fluorescent and overhead lighting. Be certain to clean your monitor's screen frequently, too, as dust and dirt can cause indirect glare.

CHAIR It is important that your chair supports your lower back while working. Chairs that offer lower lumbar support are an excellent choice. Adjust the height of your chair, too, so that your feet can sit flat in front of you. Sit straight, but comfortably. Never strain.

TIME OUT Taking regular work breaks can go a long way in preventing R.S.I.'s. The Mayo Clinic suggests allowing yourself to look away from the monitor every ten to fifteen minutes to avoid eyestrain. Focus on something beside you for ten seconds and then allow your eyes to refocus on the monitor.

Try getting up every two hours and moving around. Even walking across the room a few times is enough to allow your muscles to relax.

Most importantly, pay attention to your body. If you're feeling pain or discomfort, it's important to stop what you're doing and rest. Consider self-massaging the area for a few moments to allow for more circulation to tired muscles. Take short breaks frequently or change your position every thirty minutes, so that your body has a chance to share the workload with other muscles. And remember, if pain, numbness or tingling persists, it's time to see a health care professional.