Avoiding Repetetive Stress Injury
by Steven J. Owens (unless otherwise attributed)
First thing is, don't hesitate, get professional help now. RSI can
quickly and easily become permanent damage - permanent as in, "you're
in pain for the rest of your life and costly and risky surgery might
help but might just leave you crippled" permanent.
I'm not trying to panic you and I'm not saying this has already
happened to you, but if you read up on RSI you see all sorts of
anecdotes about people who "thought it was just temporary and it would
get better if they ignored it" so they put off talking to a doctor.
Also, if your employer is a major corporation, they'll be sensitive as
hell to the potential for RSI-related lawsuits. Your immediate
superior may not be aware of these issues. Don't treat it as a work
area issue that your superior has to resolve, treat it as a health
benefits issue that your company has to resolve. Your boss has plenty
to do and will not make your RSI issues a high priority. If I were in
your shoes I'd suggest you:
see your doctor,
insist that he/she give you a referral to an ergonomics specialist
(insist - many doctors are unfamiliar with the topic; many doctors
seem reluctant to admit that they're not familiar with any topic).
see if you can get a physician to give you an actual prescription
for ergonomic corrective measures.
take this to your employer
if your immediate superior doesn't have a direct response (i.e. if
they say "I'll look into it", that's not good enough), wait two days
and then take it to whoever's in charge of health benefits, (sometimes
Personnel in smaller corporations, sometimes a separate department in
larger corporations). They're usually a lot more up on the topic, a
lot more aware of the lawsuit risks, and a lot more responsive.
Some general rules of thumb I'd follow in setting up your work area
(but don't stop with this, there's a ton of stuff on RSI on the net,
go to Google, put in "RSI" and do the reading, then if you think
there's a problem, talk to a doctor who knows about RSI. I am not a
doctor, and I don't want to be sued!):
Essentially, if you're sitting normally, no joint should be especially
tensed for any length of time. A major danger sign is if you have to
consistently keep any part of your body tensed to use your computer
(or whatever you're working on), particularly in the small bones &
muscles, like your hands.
Your chair should be high enough that your feet are flat on the floor,
but the chair seat is not cutting into your thighs at all.
Your keyboard should be at a level so that your upper arms hang
naturally and are more-or-less straight up and down. From the inside
of your elbow to the tips of your fingers should be a straight line,
slanting slightly down. Your wrists, the backs of your hands, your
fingers should be flat and relaxed. Remember the major danger sign I
mentioned - if you have to keep the backs of your hand tensed to pull
your fingers up to the right angle to type, then you either need to
raise your chair or lower your keyboard.
The monitor should be placed so it's about eighteen inches away and
slightly down (about 15-20 degrees down). If you sit levelly, close
your eyes, relax, then open them without actively looking anywhere,
where your gaze falls is where the center of your monitor should be.
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