by Clare Kumar

Falling on the last day in February, International RSI Awareness Day brings attention to Repetitive Strain Injuries, also known as Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSD’s. It was proposed by an injured Canadian worker over twelve years ago. I wish I’d thought of it!

Clare Kumar

RSI is a collective term applied to injuries to soft tissues (muscles, nerves and tendons), and are the most commonly reported workplace injury.

Stats Canada tells us that annually, 2.3 million Canadians suffer RSI injuries that interrupt their normal activities. That’s 1 in 10. What frustrates me, is that these injuries are usually avoidable. They are personally limiting and expensive, costing the Ontario government an estimated $26B, primarily in the administration of healthcare.

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Here are some things you should know about Repetitive Strain Injuries

Causes of Repetitive Strain Injuries

  • repetitive motions
  • awkward postures
  • excessive force
  • too much time in a fixed position
  • fast work with inadequate recovery

Stress and tension can also influence the likelihood of someone suffering an RSI.

Prevention of Repetitive Strain Injuries

Injuries of this nature may take time to appear. If not treated, they can cause permanent damage.

  • Education about the likely causes can help you avoid the above situations or correct problems
  • Awareness of proper postures for the type of work you are doing
  • Knowledge of how your furniture and tools can make your work more comfortable
  • Scheduling a variety of types of work during the day
  • Taking regular breaks and stretching
  • Strengthening the body

I’ve been keenly interested in ergonomics for the workstation and the home since the mid 90′s when I took a new job at a major telecommunications company. I was excited to start my new job. I think they were happy to have me, but wondered a little, when I found the HR department had forgotten to assign me a work space.

I was accommodated by a fellow employee allowing me to share the space in his cubicle.

I was provided with a round desk and chair to work from. Can you smell disaster? This was a job in finance, and my tasks largely involved becoming an expert in Excel, creating and manipulating results documents to share internally. If you’ve created charts in Excel, you’ll appreciate the amount of mousing required to create a compelling visual representation.

Well, here’s the math:

1 mouse + 1 keyboard + 1 round table x 8 or more hours a day x several months = 100 per cent chance of rotator cuff tendonitis

Only I didn’t know that then.

The round table meant that I had to choose between keeping the keyboard or the mouse close enough to use comfortably. Given that I had to use both, I traded away the proximity of the mouse.

I worked for awhile trying to ignore the pain developing in my shoulder. Economic times were tough and the company was not in good shape. I persevered. Until one day, I couldn’t work sitting down anymore. So, I stood up and worked some more.

Then I decided to get educated and seek a safer environment. I asked for a computer station to be brought in so I could safely use the computer. I could write comfortably on the round table.

I ended up spending a few hours each week in physiotherapy. I couldn’t carry anything on my shoulder or sleep on my right side for two years. Pretty mild effects in the scheme of things, but still, 100 per cent avoidable.

After becoming aware I started to notice people around the office with braces for carpel tunnel injuries. My co-worker suffered back pain, and I learned he had sat in the same chair for 5 years and didn’t he could adjust it. Since then, I have lobbied for companies to make the most of the feature-rich equipment they are buying and to educate their employees on how to use it. A little prevention can save a lot of pain and lost productivity.

My wish for you on this RSI Awareness Day, is that you will take 10 minutes to think about your own comfort, and resolve to adjust anything that isn’t working for you.

To your comfort and productivity.

A Toronto-based Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant with a talent for teaching and motivating others, Clare Kumar founded Streamlife ® in 2005.

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  • Beat

    Hi Clare,
    I couldn’t agree more with you… Most companies don’t really care about the wellness of their staff, and if they do, workplace ergonomics are on the bottom-end of the list…
    I’m turning 50 next year and worked for several companies, some smaller ones, but also major companies. The bigger the company, the more they usually care and invest in good equipement for they employees. It also depends a lot on the culture. European companies (from my experience) care much more then North American ones. Recently our company replaced most office chairs, but I decided to keep mine since I was lucky to grab a quite descent one when I joined 3 years back. The new chairs are nice, but still lack some of the vital ergo settings that my old one has :-). It’s not the price that makes a good chair (although it helps), but really to look at the technical specs (like for every good appliances or goods). The same goes for the lightning and the desks, or the displays and the keyboard & mouse. People are still bluffed how I can work with an ergonomic ‘natural’ keyboard :-). We’re only two in the company of about 180 employees, and most people spend 8 hrs a day behind it… I carry my keyboard from job to job since 6 or 7 years now and would never use anything else. The keys labels are almost washed out, but I don’t care since I’m using 10-finger tippist.
    I enjoy your blog and look forward to read more articles.
    A reader from Quebec.

  • Hi Beat – thanks very much for your comments. Great to hear you’ve had such success with ergonomic keyboards too. They really don’t take long to get used to. It’s going back to a regular one that would be tougher!

    cheers,

    Clare