Coding my way out of RSI

Imagine waking up one day without the ability to get any work done...

If you make a living in front of a computer, you are probably aware of the risks of developing Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). But have you ever stopped to consider that healing or preventing RSI could be as simple as taking regular breaks?

RSI can be a debilitating injury if you make your living from typing, learn how I prevented it from getting to that point

Just a quick note here that I am not a medical professional, so if you have any symptoms that you think are RSI related, you should see your doctor.

I recently found myself developing some suspiciously RSI-like symptoms. I was worried. My entire livelihood depends on my ability to code. I had to take action, fast.

After some research I found some simple and easy tips to implement for preventing the progression of RSI and they really worked. I had to share them, especially with the productivity community because I know a lot of have a lot of 'screen time'.

Amazingly enough, it turned out that I was spending my valuable keystrokes and mouse clicks building the very tool that would put me on the road to recovery!

Yes, you guessed it, focus booster and the Pomodoro technique helped me to implement a lot of the preventative measures I researched.

My number 1 tip is, never underestimate the effect of regular breaks. Not only when it comes to overcoming injury but also as a method to prevent yourself ever developing RSI in the first place.

So, RSI, what is it, do you have it and what can you do to prevent or stop it from affecting your life...

Definition of RSI

"Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) occur from repeated physical movements doing damage to tendons, nerves, muscles, and other soft body tissues...The rise of computer use and flat, light-touch keyboards that permit high-speed typing have resulted in an epidemic of injuries of the hands, arms, and shoulders. Use of pointing devices like mice and trackballs are as much a cause." -

Interestingly, since the 1970s, RSI of the arms, neck, shoulders and hands has been on the rise. Typewriters, then computers and now other devices, tablets and smartphones aren't doing us any favors!

Symptoms of RSI

If you find you are starting to develop any of the following symptoms of RSI in your hands, wrists or elbows, it is time to take action;

  • Tightness, discomfort, stiffness, soreness or burning
  • Tingling, coldness, or numbness
  • Clumsiness or loss of strength and coordination
  • Feeling a need to massage your hands, wrists, and arm

Tips to prevent RSI

We all know prevention is better than cure. So, let's explore the measures you can take to help prevent RSI from impacting your life or reducing your income;

#1 Regular breaks

Use the pomodoro technique to time your work sessions and remind you to take regular breaks. You will work in sessions of 25 minutes for focused work and then take 5-minute breaks. Once you have done four pomodoro sessions, take a longer break. You can use focus booster to help you get into a pomodoro rhythm, without having to expend too much energy thinking about it.

#2 Stretching

When you do take your breaks, get up from your desk, walk around and do some arm, shoulder and hand stretching.

I have included some of the stretches that worked best for me in written steps but if you prefer videos, I have included some options for you too.

Arm, shoulder and hand stretch;
  1. Starting with the right-hand side, stand next to a wall.
  2. Extend your right arm along the wall behind you, place your palm on the wall, keeping your arm parallel to the ground.
  3. Keeping your shoulder pressed to the wall, open the chest. Hold for 30-60 seconds. You will feel a gentle stretch through the shoulder and arm.
  4. Now hold the stretch but extend your palm and fingers away from the wall to stretch the wrist and fingers. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
  5. Repeat on your left side.
Doorway stretch;
  1. Stand in a door frame and place your forearms against the frame, keeping your upper arms at a right angle to the frame, parallel to the ground.
  2. Keep your abdominals tight to protect your lower back and slowly walk forward until you feel a light stretch in the chest and shoulders. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
Hand stretches;
  1. Holding your arm out straight in front of you, with the hand facing forward (like a stop signal), gently extend each of the fingers back, one-by-one, in a light stretch.
  2. Gently stretch the thumb back toward the wrist.
  3. Now gently extend all fingers back at the same time, stretching through the palm.
  4. Repeat on the opposite hand.
  5. Now clench the hands into fists and release, stretching and spreading the fingers, repeat ten times.
  6. Bring your palms and fingers together, in the prayer position, push together and move your arms down toward the ground to stretch through the palms and wrists.
  7. Keeping the fingers and upper palms pressed together, move your hands further toward the ground to deepen the stretch. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat.

#3 Ergonomics

Set up your workspace to ensure you have the most ergonomic positioning of the keyboard and monitor for your height. This ergonomic positioning calculator will help. You can also purchase ergonomically designed hardware, such as keyboards, mouse/trackpads, and stands to help prevent injury.

#4 Posture

Posture is another important element in preventing RSI;

  1. Ensure you sit up straight by placing your monitors at eye level, no hunching!
  2. Keep your elbows close to your body but your arms and hands in a straight line while working on a keyboard.
  3. Stay close to your desk to reduce strain on your arms and wrists.
  4. Prevent your wrists from resting on the desk while you are typing; it restricts healthy blood flow.
  5. Routinely switch between input methods such as a mouse, trackpad, track ball, etc.

#5 Stay fit and healthy

Don't underestimate the importance of exercise and good health;

  1. If you don't already, consider doing some form of exercise, several times a week, to help reduce stress and improve your fitness. Strengthening and stretching your muscles will be a great plus, regarding improving posture. If you need some help getting started, try my fitness app right now Sworkit.
  2. Relaxation techniques can help to reduce the tension that leads to poor posture at work. Why not try a meditation app?
  3. If you are tight on the neck and shoulders, the occasional therapeutic massage will help to improve this, and you will feel great! ...yes there is an app.

Tips for treating RSI

If you missed the prevention phase and are now facing the impact of acute RSI, don't allow it to become chronic. Here are some tips for recovery;

  1. Visit your GP and physiotherapist, formulate a plan to treat your RSI (this might include ice and heat application, anti-inflammatories, massage, stretching and rest).
  2. Rest and recuperate.
  3. Take steps to ensure you have all of the above preventions implemented for when your return to work.
  4. When you return, build back up to a full day slowly, to prevent aggravating your RSI again.

RSI can be very painful and does require time off work to recover when serious, so put some of these preventions in place to avoid being in that position and if you do see the symptoms take action immediately.

Regarding prevention, though, it is as simple as taking regular breaks, stretching and being mindful of your posture.

If you know anyone at risk of developing RSI, please share this post to help them master the techniques to avoid it. Let's say, goodbye RSI!

Written in 8 Pomodoro sessions, prevent RSI with this simple tips, just like I did.