The prevention of RSI begins with good health habits. Be sure to:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take breaks while you are working. Tired muscles are more prone to injury.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Practice good workplace ergonomics.

Besides practicing good health habits, there are some simple things you can do to make your body less prone to a typing injury. This page offers some ideas for your workstation and for exercise, as well as some useful links to exercise programs that you can use to ward off repetitive strain injuries.

Our focus here is on behavioral changes, such as changing your computer set-up, that will make you less prone to injury. Medical means are also available, but this his page is not intended to replace good solid medical advice. If you are a student, consult with Health Services (www.as.cmu.edu/Student_Affairs/HealthServices/index.html), or if you are a member of the faculty or staff, contact the Benefits Office to find out what can be done to help you feel better. In the meantime, remember to take breaks. Your health is literally in your hands.

Behavioral Changes

You can decrease your risk of getting RSI by making slight modifications in your behavior. These will create minimal interruptions in your normal routines and productivity.

Taking frequent brief rest breaks is important, along with changing on-the-job routines, maintaining proper posture, adjusting work station design, changing after-work habits and improving your physical condition.

Just as there are rules for safe driving, we suggest that there are rules for safe typing. Here are some suggestions:

Safety Rules for the Wrist

  • Maintain a neutral wrist position when typing.
  • Keep your wrists off the work surface.
  • Use the whole arm to move your hand.
  • Keep your fingers curved.
  • Use a light touch.
  • Place your mousepad at the same height as your keyboard.
  • Work at a comfortable pace.
  • Take a rest from the computer (about 10 minutes every hour).
  • Keep your fingernails short.
  • Stretch frequently.

Safety Rules for the Neck & Back

  • Maintain good posture by keeping your spine and head upright.
  • Adjust your chair's backrest to maintain the lumbar curve of your back.
  • Adjust the chair height so your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Maintain a ninety degree angle between your lower legs, thighs, and upper body.
  • Adjust the computer screen so that the top of the display is no higher than your eye level.
  • Stretch frequently.

Safety Rules for the Eyes

  • Clean your computer screen regularly.
  • Adjust the brightness control to "low" and its contrast control to "high."
  • Use proper lighting.
  • Relax your eyes at least once per hour by focusing your eyes on a distant object, holding for a moment and then looking back at the screen. Repeat this three times.

Breaks

Typing continuously creates problems because it tires the muscles and makes them generally more prone to injury. Breaks of five minutes every half hour, or ten minutes every hour, are most often recommended. If you are worried that this will hurt your productivity, remember that this time does not have to be unproductive time; it can just be a break from typing. Check the supply cabinet, review the hard copy of a report or paper, or do an exercise.

Hobbies

A person at risk for RSI should try to remember that certain hobbies use the muscles of the hands, wrists, and arms in much the same way typing does. Examples include gardening, sewing, racket sports, playing musical instruments and weightlifting. Moderation and medical advice can help you adjust and enjoy your hobbies in a safe way too.

Warm Ups

Are we "computer athletes"? You bet. Thatís what the experts call someone who works at a keyboard all day. And, just as athletes warm up before their activity with stretches and exercises, a typist should too.

There are a variety of possible exercises you can do -- most of which can be done inconspicuously at your desk while you take a break -- to stretch and strengthen the hand, wrist, fingers, arms, neck, and back. Conditioning all of these areas reduces the need for one set of muscles to do the work of others.

The benefits of typing exercises are just like the benefits we gain from walking, running or playing tennis. They improve physical condition for the areas of need, improve joint flexibility and muscle extendibility, balance muscle tone, improve blood flow, reduce the risk of inflammations, and reduce stress.

Fancy equipment is not necessary. The only extra pieces of equipment needed for some exercises are foam resistance balls to squeeze for building strength in the hand. No exercise should be done if pain or discomfort is experienced. You should go to a heath care professional for diagnosis and treatment of the problem.

Exercise

Wrists: With opposite hand, gently pull your fingers back allowing the wrist to bend. Hold for three seconds. Switch hands. Repeat three to five times.

Hands: Refresh your fingers by first making a tight fist with both hands and then spreading your fingers as far apart as they can go. Hold this for five seconds then repeat three more times.

Head and neck: Turn your head slowly from one side to the other. Hold on each side for a count of three. Repeat five to ten times.

Shoulders: Use a wide circular motion as your roll your shoulders forward five times and then back five times. Repeat cycle five to ten times.

Upper back: Raise your hands up level with your shoulders. Push your shoulders back. Keep your elbows down. Hold for a count of ten. Repeat three times.

Lower back: Sit back in your chair, body relaxed. Then slowly bend forward until your upper body rests between your knees. Hold for a count of five, then slowly straighten back up and relax. Repeat three to five times.

Workspace Setup

Your work and study environment is an important factor in RSI. In general, you can inexpensively modify the furniture and equipment and the set-up of that equipment to make your workstation more comfortable. Carnegie Mellon has an ergonomics expert who can conduct assessments of where you work. His name is Jim Gindlesperger and you can e-mail him at jg57@andrew.cmu.edu to ask questions. We've also come up with a list of equipment providers who offer low-cost alternatives and sound ergonomic furniture. If you'd like a list of these suppliers, please contact xxx.

Posture

When using a computer, you must rest your feet firmly on the floor or on a foot rest while having knees bent at right angles so that the backs of the thighs are free of pressure. With the lower back supported by the chair, the upper body must be straight. The position of the arms is also important. Your upper arms must be hanging straight down and the elbows bent at right angles. The wrists, most importantly, must be straight and not bent in any direction. The correct position of the head is tilted slightly down.

Furniture

In order to support this "correct" posture, there has to be a "correct" workstation (hardware) setup. To have legs well rested, it is important to have an adjustable chair. It has to be height-adjustable, and the front edge of the seat must not cause pressure on the bottom of the thighs. Upper body posture depends on the monitor position and input devices such as keyboards and pointing devices.

Monitors are to be positioned in the proper viewing distance, around two feet, and also height adjustable. To reduce eye strain, it is better to set the monitor in such a way that glare is prevented.

Keyboards

Most importantly, it is crucial to have the right keyboard which does not force your hands into an awkward position or have wrists bent when typing. Using a keyboard can affect the wrists, forearms, neck, shoulders and back directly, and other parts of the body indirectly.

Experts say the keyboard slope is an important issue too. The ultimate preferred slope is related to your hand length and stature. It has been determined through experiments that most people prefer a 15 degree sloping of their keyboard from the table upward, the angle measured from the top of the desk to the slope of the keys.

In Summary: The Acceptable Workplace Set-Up

An ergonomically "acceptable office" setup can be defined as one in which the following criteria are met:

Work Table: has rounded edges, and enough room for legs and arms to move around freely

Monitor: height-adjustable, non-reflective screen

Keyboard: height adjustability; base should not be too thick (no excessive inclination)

Chair: height-adjustable, lumbar support, seat tilt and twist, padded arm rest and five point base for stability

Mouse: programmable buttons, comfortable grip.