Preventing Repetitive Strain Injuries

Preventing Repetitive Strain Injuries

Greg Cannon writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to an article entitled “Ergonomically eWorking.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, work-related muscular-skeletal problems account for one-third of all reported occupational injuries and illnesses, making them the largest job-related injury and illness problem in the United States.

In 1997, the most recent year for which data is available, such problems resulted in 626,000 lost workdays and accounted for $1 of every $3 spent of workers’ compensation. For workers with severe problems, muscular-skeletal difficulties can mean permanent disabilities that prevent them from returning to their jobs or even handling simple, everyday tasks.

Being an eWorker means, among other things, that there’s no corporate health and safety officer looking over your shoulder. That makes knowing about ergonomics and about the ways to help prevent tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, and other repetitive stress injuries (RSI) all the more important.

In a recent article, we detailed the features that make up an ergonomically-fit home office. Now we present some simple exercises that you can do standing in your home office or seated in that ergonomically-correct chair. Combined with a well-appointed workstation, these exercises can help ward off many of the ills that can rob computer-jockeys of health and work.

Note: If you are experiencing existing pain or discomfort, you should contact your physician as soon as possible.

Break Early, Break Often

The simplest exercise involves simply getting up and walking away from your computer for short, but regular, breaks to relieve your body from the strain of sitting in one position for too long. The general rule of thumb is to take at least one three-minute break for each hour spent staring at a computer screen.

It’s also a good idea to take more frequent, quick breaks that don’t necessarily require leaving your seat, but can provide welcome relief by refocusing your eyes or doing some brief stretches of the type described below.


Focus is key to your business success, but focusing for too long on the task at hand can take its toll on your eyes. Every so often, change your focal point from the nearness of your screen to some distant point. Close your eyes tightly, then, open them wide. Blink frequently in rapid succession to moisten the eyes. Draw a few sets of circles with your eyes, first in one direction, then the other. And don’t worry. It may look strange, but if you’re an eWorker, chances are you don’t have to worry about attracting stares from co-workers.

Hands and Wrists

A couple of times an hour, try the following exercises three times each: Make a tight fist and hold it for a moment. Then spread your fingers like a fan and hold for five seconds, repeating three times. With one hand up, use the fingers of the opposite hand to gently pull back the thumb, holding for five seconds each time.

Next, pretend you’re desperately trying to retrieve a lost file that you’ve been working on for hours and “pray.” Place your palms together, fingers up, and slowly draw your hands toward your waist. And if you feel like closing your eyes and thinking deep thoughts at the same time, go right ahead.

Have a Ball: Hand strengthening devices like Power Putty and hand-flexors can be had for as little as $8 and make a great addition to any desktop. For a cheaper alternative, grab an old tennis ball from the closet and squeeze it for the same effect.

Neck, Arms, and Shoulders

Look Around: Turn your head to the left and then to the right, bringing your chin over each shoulder and hold it there for five seconds.

Reach Out: First, stretch your arms out in front of you. Next, raise them to the ceilings and then drop them to your sides, stretching them in each direction and holding them there for five seconds.

Shrug it Off: Shrug your shoulders, squeezing tightly and holding for three seconds before releasing and repeating four times.


Push your chair away from your desk and, while seated, slowly bend down between your knees. Hold the position for a few seconds. For your upper back, bend your arms at the shoulder and push your elbows back, holding for five seconds and repeating at least five times.

With all of these stretches, it’s important not to force anything. Limbs, wrists, fingers, and torsos should be stretched gently. You want to feel some resistance, but the idea is to prevent injuries, so you want to be careful not to bend anything farther than it can comfortably bend.

Finally, the best prescription for avoiding injuries is an overall regimen of exercise and fitness that goes beyond the workstation workout. Proper exercise can help ensure good posture and limber muscles–possibly your best allies in preventing RSI.
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