Understanding Repetitive Stress Injury


Computers And Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI)



In these fast paced, hectic times, people rely on technology to make tasks faster and more efficient. Electronic devices such as computers help us save time, earn money, educate us and give us pleasure. But there is a down side to spending hours in front of a computer, or performing repetitive tasks on any device; and that is repetitive stress injuries. Computers are one of the leading causes of repetitive stress injuries.



What Is A Repetitive Stress Injury?

There are many repetitive stress injuries which vary in type and severity of symptoms. They are caused by over stressing a joint by either too much repetition and/or too much force. For example typing for hours and hitting the keys on the keyboard with more force than is necessary, playing computer games for long periods of time, sending text messages on a mobile phone, playing musical instruments, or overuse injuries in sports. For example tennis elbow.



What Causes A Repetitive Stress Injury?

When a joint is placed under stress the muscles and tendons are constantly being pulled and manipulated, when this stress happens repeatedly the body does not have enough time for recovery and can become fatigued and irritated. To counteract this irritation the body sends an increasing amount of fluid to the area which causes a repetitive stress injury.



Different Types Of Repetitive Stress Injury


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

carpal tunnel

The carpal tunnel or canal is a passageway that connects the forearm to the hand, it surrounds the nerves responsible for both motor and sensory impulses. When the carpal tunnel becomes inflamed it can cause tingling sensations, numbness and pain.


Cervical Radiculopathy (radiating neck pain)



Radiculopathy is a medical condition caused by compressing a nerve in the spine causing weakness, tingling and numbness. It can occur in any part of the spine but is more common in the lumbar region (lower back) and the neck (cervical).

Cervical radiculopathy is often the result of things like constantly cradling a phone on your shoulder whilst talking.


Epicondylitis (tennis elbow)


Lateral epicondylitis, (tennis elbow), is a condition affecting the tendons attached to the outside (lateral) section of the elbow.

In lateral epicondylitis the tendons attachment point begins to degenerate and weaken, placing added stress over the area. This leads to pain when gripping/grasping or lifting.

Epiconylitis can happen with many activities but is commonly associated with tennis (tennis elbow).


Ganglion Cyst


A ganglion cyst is a swelling or tumor on a joint or covering of a tendon. It appears as a liquid filled sac (cyst). It is filled with a clear, thick, jelly like substance and may feel firm or spongy.




Tendonitis is generally caused by over use or over loading a tendon, causing tearing and inflammation. This may result in:

  • Pain which increases on movement of the area
  • Stiffness in the area
  • Weakness of the affected joint
  • A grating sensation as the tendon moves
  • Swelling of the area – sometimes red and hot
  • A lump on the tendon



Treatment For Repetitive Stress Injury

Repetitive Stress Injury symptoms can include pain, numbness and tingling indicating progressive muscle and nerve damage.

If repetitive stress injury symptoms are present see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

At home you may get some relief using R.I.C.E (cold therapy)



How To Prevent Repetitive Stress Injuries From Computer Use

Undue stress to the back, neck or spine can increase the risk of getting a repetitive stress injury, so always:

  • Sit up straight, never slouch over the keyboard
  • Avoid tensing your shoulders
  • Position yourself so your legs are comfortable and your feet are flat on the floor, or on a foot rest with your legs between 90-100 degrees to the spine
  • Do not pound on the keyboard; a light touch is all that is needed
  • Do not reach for the keyboard; there should be a 90 degree angle between the wrists, the elbows and the upper arms whilst typing
  • When typing keep fingers and wrists level
  • Take frequent breaks to rest your neck, back, wrists and eyes – some symptoms of eye strain include:
  • Sore and/or tired eyes
  • Itchy and/or burning eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light

If you experience any of the above symptoms take a break from your computer and focus on something far away every once in a while. Good lighting around the computer will help prevent eye strain also.


Most computer systems are designed to suit a 25 year old so you will need to utilize adjustable furniture that is suitable for the whole family.

Strive for maximum adjustability so you can manipulate the desk and chair height in relation to the keyboard – the elbows and trunk positioning – and to the height of the monitor.



A Simple Guideline 

Leg position: Position yourself so your legs are comfortable and your feet are flat on the floor, or on a foot rest with your legs between 90-100 degrees with the spine

Chair position: Make sure that the chair is comfortable and adjustable; you should be able to adjust the back angle, height and arm rest

Back position: You should have an adjustable lumbar support to help support the lower back

Wrist angle: Keep wrists in the neutral position when using the mouse or typing  (hand and forearm should be straight)

Elbow angle: Do not reach for the keyboard; there should be a 90 degree angle between the wrists, the elbows and the upper arms whilst typing

Monitor position: The top of the monitor should be the same height as the users forehead and you should be around 2 feet from the screen