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Repetitive Strain Injury Still Present At The Office Desk.

17th December 2013
Since the days when computers first entered the office workplace, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) has been a recurring issue. While injury claims for RSI may no longer be at the highly publicised injury compensation levels of 10 to 15 years ago, it is estimated that around three quarters of people who use computers at work, i.e. just about everyone, can still experience problems, which could develop into a longer term condition.

There are several reasons why RSI and related muscular strain can still affect the neck, upper limbs and the lumbar region. At first, deskbound computer monitors were often not aligned at eye level with office chairs adjusted at the correct height level for each individual working at their desk.

As a result, posture was affected by desks with insufficient space in front of the keyboard, lack of arm room, and constantly crouching forward with bent knees. Extended periods hunched over a keyboard (as with any other type of task which involves repeated movements) also requires adequate breaks during the working day, and provision of an ergonomic keyboard, which helps to lessen the strain.

Since that time manufacturers introduced more ergonomically designed keyboards, mouses, wrist rests, office desks and chairs, and improved the ability to adjust computer monitors to the required eye-line level. In addition better health and safety information and awareness of sitting posture was circulated. Yet nearly 3 million days were still lost in 2010/11 due to work related upper limb or neck disorders.

Many of the old-style CRT computer monitors have been replaced in most offices with flat screen technology often supported by an attached low level bracket and not on an adjustable pole. Alternatively, laptops are just placed flat on a desk / table, their screens opened at a wide angle and inevitably, employees are hunched forward, necks strained as they peer downwards, tapping on a smaller keyboard area.

For some prone individuals, the combination of poor posture and repeated flexion and extension of the wrist, can cause inflammation and put pressure on a nerve (median) running through the wrist leading to carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), also commonly associated with prolonged use of vibrating tools and a recognised industrial injury.

To obtain a confirmed diagnosis of RSI may require a referral to a neurologist and for CTS, a nerve conduction test to be undertaken to measure electrical impulses along the median nerve.