Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are among the most common
work-related illnesses in the U.S., affecting hundreds of
thousands of people each year. Frequently associated with
computer use, RSIs can cause pain and discomfort in the neck,
back, arms and hands. They are also quite expensive: The Department
of Labor estimates that carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive-strain
disorders cost more than $20 billion a year in time lost from
work and worker's compensation.
A series of experiments published in a recent issue of Applied
Psychophysiology and Biofeedback show how working on a
computer can alter a person's posture breathing patterns,
and how proper training can reduce the incidence of RSI in
the workplace. In the first study, 18 computer users were
hooked up to a monitoring system that measured their muscle
tension and breathing rate while working at a PC. The monitoring
session found that when users became more immersed in their
work, they tended to elevate the shoulders and breathe faster.
Muscle tension in all of the muscle groups increased, especially
the muscles in the upper back opposite the hand that used
a computer mouse. In addition, users often continued working
without taking breaks, which would have relieved some of the
tension and reduced the risk of developing a repetitive strain
In a separate experiment, the researchers trained a group
of computer users in muscle relaxation and breathing techniques,
then compared them with a group of workers who did not receive
training. After three training sessions, the computer users
reported significantly decreased symptoms of repetitive strain
compared to the untrained workers. Trained users relaxed their
necks and shoulders more often, breathed from the diaphragm
rather than the chest, and took more frequent breaks.
If you use a computer, there are several steps you can take
to reduce, or even eliminate, the risk of repetitive strain
injury. Take regular breaks and stretches. Organize your office
equipment so it is ergonomically correct. And of course, talk
to your doctor about specific exercises and other habits you
can adopt to keep RSIs out of your workspace.
Peper E, Wilson V, Gibney K. The integration
of electromyography (SEMG) at the workstation: assessment,
treatment and prevention of repetitive strain injury (RSI).
Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback June 2003.
Repetitive stress injuries are one of many injuries affecting
the musculoskeletal system. To learn more about musculoskeletal
health, visit www.chiroweb.com/find/archives/musculoskeletal.