Preventing RSI

While any repetitive motion can cause RSI, there are a number of important things you can do to prevent an injury.


A proper ergonomic setup, good posture, and proper typing technique are some of the most important things you can do to avoid RSI. OSHA has an e-tool to help with your workstation. If you need additional help, contact the ergo merc or the Environmental Health and Safety ergonomic specialists: Timothy Reilly (401 863 1645) and Stephen Morin (401 863 3353). First: position your hands to always type in a NEUTRAL position. Look at these pictures from Harvard RSI action or Albion's RSI site for illustrative examples. When at your workstation:

Take Breaks

The human body is not designed to do any particular task over and over. Historically, a repetitive motion is alternated with other tasks. Thus, it is important to take plenty of breaks and to vary your tasks.

Workrave reminds you to take typing breaks, and also supports "micro pauses." Workrave monitors when you are away from your keyboard and credits you for breaks you take on your own. It also suggests stretching exercises from wrists, eyes, neck, back, etc. (right click on the Workrave icon, then choose exercises). Workrave is installed on all Linux and Windows department machines. For more information about Workrave, or to download it to your own machine, check out the Workrave site.

There is also free break software for Macs (contact the ergo merc for more details). On Linux machines, run Workrave from contrib: /contrib/bin/workrave On Windows machines, run Workrave from Start\All Programs\Accessories\Workrave. To have Workrave run automatically when you log in, copy that icon into Start\All Programs\Startup. To set options for Workrave, right click on the small sheep icon on the bottom right of your screen and select preferences. On the Macintosh, AntiRSI is a popular and free break reminder program. You might also consider MacBreakZ, which is not free, but provides many features and excellent stretching exercises.

The appropriate distance between breaks depends upon the person. A good rule of thumb is to figure out how long you can type without feeling fatigue, discomfort, pain, and without resting your wrists on your desk or a wristrest. Subtract 10 minutes from that length of time, and that is how often you should take a break. If you can't type for 10 minutes without feeling pain, you shouldn't be typing at all.

Even if you aren't feeling pain or discomfort, you should still take a a 5 minute break at least every 25-30 minutes. You should also take microbreaks: every couple of minutes take 30 seconds off. Above all, you should be paying careful attention to what your body is telling you. If you get tired, you should be taking some time off to walk around, stretch, and spend some time doing something else. Workrave has stretching suggestions.

Alternative Computing

The department has an ergonomic pool. Department members can check out equipment from the pool for up to two weeks. See what to do if you feel pain for more information on the equipment pool.