I never heard about repetitive strain injury (RSI) until I was in graduate school. One of my friends complained about pain in her arms following long periods of typing, so she began wearing arm braces and took several weeks off from work. Although her condition improved, her arm pain recurred after extended periods of typing. Less than a year later I developed similar symptoms soon after I switched from a desktop to a laptop. Looking back, this should not have come as a surprise since it is very difficult to type in a comfortable position while using a laptop. I loved my laptop, because it was so light and convenient, but I had to let it go in order to be able to type without pain. (In the references below, you will find advice on how to use a laptop more comfortably, in case you must use one.)
During my recovery I learned quite a bit about the importance of stress management and ergonomic typing habits. I also learned that RSI was a "silent epidemic" in graduate school. Of the 100 people I interviewed for my book, 28 experienced RSI to some extent (more than 1 in 4). A few students were unable to type for weeks or even months due to extreme pain. Others were not diagnosed with RSI "officially", but they felt pain in their backs, arms and shoulders after many hours on the computer.
Probably most of you readers have heard about RSI, but here are a few things you might not have known:
- If you feel pain persistently in your arms, those symptoms can turn very quickly (overnight) into severe pain and inflammation in your joints. The best strategy way to avoid serious injury is to seek medical advice as soon as you experience pain or discomfort from typing.
- Pain from typing frequently does not develop until after you have stopped typing. That is why it is important to take frequent breaks (every 15-20 min) and stretch your arms.
- Activities other than typing (e.g. swimming, playing instruments) can aggravate RSI, and you might need to cut back on these activities until you recover.
Fortunately, there are many resources about RSI in books and on the Internet. Of course, you should always seek medical advice first, but here is some additional information:
RSI Guard: http://rsiguard.com
Books about RSI:
Dr. Pascarelli's Complete Guide to Repetitive Strain Injury: What You Need to Know About RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by Emil Pascarelli
It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory & Therapy for Computer Professionals by Suparna Damany and Jack Bellis.
If you are experiencing symptoms of RSI, remember that recovery can be slow, but most people are able to restore complete function to their arms and hands with proper therapy and ergonomic typing devices. We know this is a topic that many students care about and we would love to hear your stories and experiences. Simply click on the "Reply" button below to post a comment (you need to be logged in to see the "Reply" button).
Wishing you the best,
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet