What is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and how can you prevent it?

Joris Hens

Jan 05, 2013 · 4 min read

Hi! I'm GoodBytes. Developer, teacher and beekeeper

If you earn a living by working behind a computer most of the day, it's definitely important to keep in mind that you are prone to suffering from RSI. Wikipedia describes this modern side effect of working with computers as follows:

"Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are injuries of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that may be caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression (pressing against hard surfaces), or sustained or awkward positions"

My definition would be something along the lines of:

"A tingling sensation and sometimes even painful feeling in the wrists, fingers or elbows as a result of too much clicking, typing and sitting behind a computer."

CSS hero Chris Coyier mentions "the claw" as one of the main causes of RSI. You know, that claw your hand makes when putting your hand on a mouse. Friends or colleagues I talk to don't always understand what I mean when I say that I had suffered from RSI before. Even a doctor didn't really knew what I was talking about. I couldn't really be the only person on earth suffering from RSI symptoms could I?

I was happy to hear that Chris and Dave talked about RSI on their awesome podcast, called ShopTalk. In the podcast they were looking for software tools to help them fight off RSI. I decided to write up a short blog post about what tools I'm using these days to avoid RSI symptoms. The following things helped me, so I hope they will work for you too.

Get a good mouse

Since most pain will likely be caused by forcing your wrist in an unnatural position necessary to use a mouse, it's only logical to do something about that first. I use a vertical mouse by Evoluent which will allow you to use a mouse without forcing your wrist all day long. Evoluent Verticalmouse It takes some time to get used to and your friends will definitely (and rightly so) make fun of you for a few days, but your wrists will be happy you bought one.

Get a good keyboard

Anti-RSI or ergonomic keyboards come in all forms and shapes, but for me, the most important thing was to get a flat keyboard. You know, a keyboard that doesn't force your wrists to be folded into strange angles just to be able to type on the damn thing.

The standard Apple keyboard is just fine for me, but others tend to swear by more exotic solutions. Try out a few solutions and stick with what feels natural to you and doesn't make your wrists ache after a day of coding.

Software: AntiRSI and Workrave

This is definitely a winner: use a tool that will force you to take breaks. Seriously, get up for a coffee. If you're like me and you tend to get sucked up into whatever it is you're creating or building, you need a tool like this.

I've used Workrave for quite some time but switched to AntiRSI on my Mac. Both do a great job at forcing you to take breaks. Nobody can be focused for eight hours a day. Nope, not even you. So take those breaks.

AntiRSI at work

Finally, make sure to get some exercise

I work from home a lot of the time and I'm lucky to have a pretty flexible work schedule. I'm able to go for a run when I feel like it. Not only does that give me a break, it clears my mind and helps me get back to work more focused than before.

I personally get a lot of inspiration when I'm out running, probably because you have nothing else to do but think while you're trying to make it back home :). I got the idea of writing up this blog post after listening to the ShopTalk podcast during my run and here we are, writing it up.

Run and listen to Shop Talk

Goodbye RSI

To sum it up, let's say goodbye to RSI by keeping the following in mind.

  • 1 - Use good hardware
  • 2 - Use AntiRSI or Workrave to remind you of taking short breaks
  • 3 - Exercise. Do it.

I hope these simple tips help you the same way they helped me. If you have any other tips, tools, tricks or miracles that can help to avoid RSI, please let me know on Twitter @GoodBytes.

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