I’ve had a relapse recently. My repetitive strain injury flared up, and I was once again unable to work without terrible pain in my forearms, hands, shoulders and back.
It happened because I stopped managing my condition as I know I need to if I want to be able to go on working. But I’d been feeling so good lately. So, I took on more work and then more work and then more work. Because I was doing so much work, I wasn’t finding as much time to exercise, I wasn’t taking breaks, and I’d stopped getting occasional massages (because they take up too much of my precious work time). I noticed the pain, but I ignored it – again. The voice in my head said, “Oh, it’s ok. It’s pain, yes, but it’s nothing to worry about. Just keep working.” So I did. And then the pain became unbearable – touching my keyboard made my forearms, neck and back burn – and I was forced to admit defeat. I couldn’t even wash my hair or do dishes without terrible pain. For two weeks I was off the computer, resting, and back to the osteopath, acupuncturist and deep tissue masseur. When I felt ready to get back to work, I kick-started the programme I should’ve been doing all along:
- warm-up exercises before I start work
- regular breaks throughout my work day, including stretches
- regular exercise away from work (my preference is yoga and walking)
- occasional treatments, depending on body parts that feel like they need some special attention
And now I’m back working again. But I wonder, when will my next relapse occur? Why can’t I take care of myself? Why do I stop doing the things I know I have to do if I want to stay fit for work?
No top athlete would stop training or exercising and hope to maintain their elite level. We computer users must think of ourselves as computer athletes. We cannot expect to put our bodies under the stress of sitting, typing, mousing and scrolling for hours upon hours, days upon days, years upon years without feeling the strain. No sports athlete would behave this way. Yet, we computer athletes expect our bodies to keep going, without complaint, without failing. Well, my body let me know when it had had enough. I imagine there are many computer users out there feeling the same. When will you admit you need to do something about those aches and pains?
Here are some first steps you can take to help prevent computer pain:
Take breaks to prevent repetitive strain injuries
This is so important, so why do we find it so difficult? Despite the strides we’ve made in flexible working, I believe that within most offices there still exists a last-person-standing mentality. That is, taking a break at lunch and leaving when your hours are finished is seen as weak, skivving, slacking off, whatever you want to call it; nevermind getting up and walking around for five or ten minutes every hour. We must create office environments that promote break-taking.
Make sure your workstation set up is good to prevent repetitive strain injuries
You don’t need a lot of fancy, expensive ergonomic equipment to work comfortably. And indeed, if you already have pain, no amount of fancy, ergonomic equipment will stop your pain. (In your case, you need to seek additional help.) But you can prevent pain by making sure your set up isn’t hurting you in any way. For example, are you facing your computer screen straight on? Is your screen top at eye level or are you staring down, hunching over your screen? There are many images and guides available on the Internet. Check one out and make sure you get set up safely.
All computer use counts when it comes to preventing repetitive strain injuries
This includes all digital device use, eg, your smartphone, e-Reader, etc. So, if you’ve worked all day on your desk top, you stare at your smartphone during all breaks and on your commute home, and then you set up your laptop when you get home and start typing or scrolling away—it all counts toward the total time you spend on computers each day. If you haven’t looked up all day, your neck never gets a break. Your shoulders and back have also not gotten a break all day. Spend ten minutes lying flat on your back on the floor when you get home. This will allow gravity to give all of those muscles a chance to relax in the opposite direction from where they’ve been leaning all day.
Seek help if you’re experiencing computer pain
If you are in pain, admit it to yourself and seek help or guidance. Take a serious look at how you work and see if you can make any changes. Your pain will not go away on its own.