Here are a few frequently asked questions, and some fast facts, about repetitive stress injuries — and what you can do to prevent pain:
• What is overuse?
According to physical therapists, repeating a motion more than 200 consecutive times is an overuse of your muscles, ligaments, or tendons. If each character pressed on a computer is one motion, it doesn’t take long to exceed 200.
**** TIP: One easy way to help prevent RSI is to take frequent rest breaks. Every two to five minutes, just stop typing for 10 seconds. Every 20 to 30 minutes, get up and walk around for a few minutes. Get a drink of water, chat with your coworkers, or go outside for a breath of fresh air.
• How do I watch out for pain?
Often, you can get so focused on work that you don’t realize you’re overdoing it until you’re actually in pain. It can seem like there are no warning signs, but you can prevent a flare-up if you know what to look for.
**** TIP: Start paying attention to your body. Check in with yourself on your breaks. If you have any of the following symptoms, you might be on your way to pain and injury:
muscle fatigue — you feel tired, tense or sore
reduced range of motion — you can’t stretch as far as usual
weakness — if you’re suddenly dropping small objects like pencils too often, that means your muscles are overworked and weak
• What kind of pain is healthy?
Although at one point it became trendy to exercise and “feel the burn,” therapists caution that any pain lasting over 2 hours after the performance of work or exercise indicates injury to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Typing may not feel like exercise, but it puts a lot of strain on your small muscles and the tendons and ligaments that hold everything together.
**** TIP: Don’t use your computer after work. Instead, go for a run, do yoga, or spend some time making dinner. If you’re still in pain a few hours later, put an ice pack on the affected area for 20 minutes to reduce the inflammation.
• What’s the difference between acute and chronic pain?
In a short-term or acute injury, you’ll feel a sudden injury. The body copes with the injury by raising the amount of stress hormones, called corticosteroids, that are sent to the affected area. These hormones help reduce the inflammation.
A chronic injury might be one that has gotten worse over time, or that doesn’t heal properly. Some repetitive stress injuries heal, but then flare up and get worse again on occasion. In a chronic situation, the stress hormones that help heal the area are decreased below a normal level — so your body isn’t able to cope with the pain and inflammation as well.
**** TIP: If you’re in pain, get help as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the longer it will take to heal. If you wait too long, you could cause permanent weakness and damage to the area. You should see a doctor if you’re in a lot of pain. At the very least, make sure to ice the area to help reduce the inflammation, and take a break from work to give yourself time to rest and heal.