I have worked with hundreds of people with symptoms of the early or more advanced stages of RSI or upper limb disorder and before we start looking at special equipment – ergonomic keyboards, mice etc., we always go back to the basics and check the most obvious things.
Normally RSI problems start with poor posture – sitting too high, too low, slouching etc. You don’t need an ergonomist or physiotherapist to give you the feedback that you need. Any colleague or partner should be able to do that.Basically you should be sitting with everything at right angles; your upper arm should be vertical and your lower arm horizontal – with your chair and desk heights adjusted to match. Your feet need to be flat on the floor, or if not flat then flat on a suitable footrest.
Your back should be straight and supported on your chair. If however you have a lower back problem you may be more comfortable sitting at a slight angle with cushioning in the lower back region.
- The Screen
Most ergonomists recommend that the top of the screen is parallel with your eyes as in the diagram above. For many people though this is probably not such a good idea as it can cause neck problems. Usually a more comfortable position is with the top of the screen about 5cm lower than the eye level.
- Keyboard and Mouse
All too often users have so much clutter on theirs desks that they have to stretch over the clutter to reach their keyboard or mouse. This causes slouching and leads to problems. The keyboard should be as close to you on your desk as possible. If you have documents that you are using they should be behind or to the side of the keyboard, not in front of it. A gel keyboard rest is a good idea although some specialists don’t agree with this.Whoever suggested that all keyboards have a flip-up stand on the base should be hauled over the coals. According to EU regulations this is mandatory and if its there – people use it. This is clearly not a good idea as it stretches the muscles in the wrist even more than they need to. So don’t use those little feet. Resist the temptation!
If you feel that you need an ergonomic keyboard, these tend to be split keyboards with the left and right hands working at an angle in the handshake or ‘neutral position’. They take a little bit of getting used to but once used, you never go back. You can see a number of these on the RSI Shop website.
Similarly for the mouse, the mouse should be right next to the keyboard and close to the front edge of the desk. All the main ergonomic mice are on the RSI Shop website but try getting the positioning of your mouse correct before buying new kit.
I doubt if there has been any research on this but I find that the majority of RSI sufferers are very ‘driven’. By this I mean that if they have some important work to do, they just keep on going until it is finished.Not good for RSI
All the books, company guidelines and articles tell you to take frequent breaks from typing. A break doesn’t necessarily mean a 10 minute trip to the smoking area – just do something else for 5 minutes that doesn’t require using the keyboard or mouse.
- And finally …… Pastimes and Hobbies
How many times have I been asked to recommend a specialist keyboard or mouse only to find that the RSI sufferer has a hobby which is designed to make their condition worse?Weight lifting, pruning, computer gaming and of course typing are not ideal pastimes for an RSI sufferer. If your rest time cannot be used to rest those poor overused wrists then you are not helping your recovery.
I suffered from RSI many years ago and no doubt this was one of the reasons that encouraged me to specialise in this area. Admittedly my RSI is now totally under control but if only someone had give me these tips all those years ago it could have saved months of physiotherapy, hand braces and lost work time.
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