Whether you call it a tennis elbow or a PlayStation thumb, repetitive strain injuries are no fun — and they commonly afflict workers in modern offices.
What’s so hard about typing on a keyboard or clicking a mouse all day? Nothing — except that doing it over and over again puts a tremendous amount of cumulative pressure and strain on your joints. That constant assault on the bones and ligaments in your hands and wrists can turn into painful conditions like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Office workers are particularly susceptible to these types of injuries. Once the injuries occur, victims experience symptoms like swelling, numbness, weakness, pain, stiffness and temperature sensitivity in the affected joints. Eventually, someone with a repetitive strain injury may end up losing dexterity and function in the afflicted hand.
The best way to handle a repetitive strain injury is to prevent it from occurring whenever you can. To protect yourself while working in an office, use the following tips:
1. Enlist your employer’s help
Request ergonomic furniture from your employer, including an adjustable chair with armrests. Ask for a stool for your feet, if necessary, so that you can sit comfortably with a relaxed spine and good posture.
Your employer may be more inclined than you might think to provide you with ergonomic furniture or equipment. Employees who develop repetitive strain injuries at work are entitled to ask for workers’ compensation benefits while they seek treatment, have surgery or otherwise recover. That could cost your employer a lot more than a new chair.
2. Position yourself properly
You need to have a straight spine and relaxed shoulders when you’re at your keyboard. When typing, keep your wrists straight and your arms level. Your hands should hover over the keyboard, not rest on it.
3. Take time to break the routine
One of the best things that you can do to avoid repetitive strain injuries is to take an hourly stretch break. Stand up, walk around, stretch your arms and flex your hands. This helps relieve tension that might otherwise build up and counter the effects your body feels from sitting and typing all day.
If you do start to experience symptoms that might be related to repetitive strain injuries, talk to a doctor right away. Early treatment is sometimes able to reverse a condition before it gets serious.