Whether for work or play, we are all spending more and more time than ever in front of our various devices: desktops, laptops, tablets and phones. Computer-related injuries due to prolonged use of computers are very real and are risks. Some of us experience occasional soreness in our hands or wrists, mostly after marathon binges when we have clearly overdone it. It is important to take breaks! All too many folks we know have struggled with long-term pain due to our tendencies to use devices in ways (and positions) that may contribute to our discomfort.
Don’t worry – there is hope! In addition to the obvious solution of better balancing our time using these devices, there are solutions to help us all be more pro-active about preventing these types of injuries before they occur.
Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMI, also known as RSI, CTD, CTS) are a class of injuries and illnesses that result from weeks, months or years of overuse of human joints. Connective tissues can become sore and sometimes unusable from repeated exposure to micro-trauma. Because of the slow onset of symptoms, people sometimes ignore the condition until the symptoms become chronic and permanent injury occurs.
The best way to visualize RMI is to think of each of our joints as a bucket. Micro-trauma from a variety of activities drips into our joint’s trauma bucket. Fortunately, our body can heal with time and safely absorb a certain amount of trauma. But if more trauma is placed into the bucket than can be absorbed by the natural healing process, the result can be pain and impaired movement.
RMI is a disorder that is based upon the time, amount and severity of our exposure. RMI disorders occur gradually over a long period of exposure to low level harmful conditions. A brief exposure to these conditions would not cause harm. But a prolonged exposure may result in reduced ability to function.
Not all pain will result in long-term disability. Muscle pain often develops after exerting ourselves in ways that the body is not accustomed to yet (over generations this will change as we adapt). Luckily, muscles heal very quickly, and even extreme muscle pain will usually diminish within a few days when managed properly.
RMI risk factors are conditions that increase the risk of developing RMI. As with known risk factors for heart disease, such as a high fat diet or lack of physical activity, exposure to RMI risk factors does not automatically lead to impaired health. Rather, these risk factors have been shown to increase the likelihood that an RMI may occur.
There are several factors that can increase the probability of developing an RMI. The more factors that are involved and the greater the exposure to each, the higher the likelihood of developing an RMI. The primary RMI risk factors are:
Force — forceful exertions that do not cause harm with one motion, but which can build up micro-trauma over time. For example, holding unnecessary force in our thumb and fingers or using excessive force while keying and mousing are RMI risk factors.
Frequency — too much repetition or too little movement can contribute to micro-trauma. For example, highly repetitive mousing motions are RMI risk factors as is prolonged sitting without taking a break to stand or change position. We work hard to improve workflows, which often is as simple as streamlining the number of clicks it takes to accomplish a task. Reducing the number of clicks to complete a task by two clicks a day may not seem like much but, over a year, that is a lot of clicks!
Posture — there are certain postures in which we are more susceptible to injury, especially at the extremes of our range of motion. For example, cradling the phone between the shoulder and neck or reaching to an input device, such as a mouse or keyboard, located in a poor position are all potential RMI risk factors.
So, how can we help prevent such injuries? What is it about ergonomy, or lack thereof, that has made such an impact on our health due to the way we work?
Augmented Reality and Voice Recognition are emerging technologies that, individually and in combination, will most likely make these kinds of injuries, not to mention the technologies that caused them, obsolete.