With many people across the UK still working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many new things to consider. Of course, working from home is not new to everyone.
In 2019, a survey by the International Workplace Group discovered that 62% of global businesses currently offer some form of remote working policy to staff.
However, for many, working from home is something completely new. One of the key concerns about operating in your home workspace is posture and how it could affect your health. It is vital to ensure we are taking the necessary steps to avoid repetitive strain injury (RSI). This section will discuss the symptoms of repetitive strain injury, common mistakes made when working from home and tips on preventing repetitive strain injury.
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Find out which parts of the body are commonly affected by repetitive strain injury.
Read about the common symptoms of repetitive strain injury to look out for.
Find out why working from home often increases the risk of repetitive strain injury.
Mistakes often made when working from home.
Read our tips for preventing repetitive strain injury at home.
Frequently asked questions on preventing repetitive strain injury while working from home.
Which areas of the body are most affected by repetitive strain injury?
RSI is a blanket term that covers pain felt in the muscles, nerves and tendons, often brought on by a repetitive task and overuse. It is a common issue for people who work in a fixed position, like a desk, for long periods at a time. Many people will have heard the term ‘work-related upper-limb disorder’ as well as repetitive strain injury, bursitis or tendonitis.
According to the UK’s Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, there are actually a number of conditions that can develop in office workers after working with computers. In sedentary workers, the most common symptom is experiencing pain in the lower back, but issues like pain in the neck and in the wrists and shoulders often associated with carpal tunnel syndrome are also common.
What are the symptoms of repetitive strain injury?
You may have RSI if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
– Pain, aching or tenderness
– Tingling or numbness
– Carpal tunnel syndrome
Types of repetitive strain injury
RSI is usually divided into two types:
Type 1 – repetitive strain injury
This is a musculoskeletal disorder that involves swelling and inflammation of muscles or tendons. This is the type that you are most likely to experience.
Type 2 – repetitive strain injury
This form has a number of causes but is often related to nerve damage that results from work injuries.
Why does working from home increase the risk of repetitive strain injury?
As you are reading this, think about the position you are sitting in. You are probably placing a certain amount of strain on your neck and shoulders to look down at your phone or stare at your computer screen. This isn’t a problem for a short period, but when you hold that position for hours whilst working, that strain takes a toll.
Many people do not have ergonomically-designed chairs or adjustable monitors at home. Their desks at work will probably have supplied these things, meaning there was never any reason to worry about an ergonomic set-up. If people are not taking precautions to ensure their home workspace is comfortable, the nation could see a worrying increase in instances of musculoskeletal disorders such as repetitive strain injury.
Common mistakes made when working from home
When switching to a home working environment, many choose to sit at the kitchen table with their laptop, or perhaps even on a sofa or their bed. The postures you adopt to work like this can have negative effects on the body.
Common mistakes when working at home include:
- Slouching over a laptop
- Incorrect keyboard placement
- Working too long without a break
- Typing too harshly
If you have been working this way, it’s likely you are already experiencing aches and pains in your back and neck. Perhaps you have persistent cramps or chronic pain in the wrists and hands from long periods of typing on a laptop keyboard.
These pains can become serious problems if they are not addressed or treated correctly.
Tips for preventing repetitive strain injury
The first thing to do is to take a look at the set-up of your home workplace and identify opportunities for improvement. If you haven’t already, you need to establish a dedicated workstation that includes an ergonomic desk chair and a desk that has enough space to house your computer, laptop and/or any other essential work supplies.
Once you have a good set-up, it will be easier to do the right things to prevent unnecessary strain on your body for all the hours of the day you’ll be working. Let’s go over the key things you need to do to protect your body while you work:
Correct sitting posture
Invest in a comfortable chair that can easily be adjusted to suit your needs. Adjust your chair to enable yourself to sit upright while working – this will reduce the strain on your back and provide crucial support for the lower back.
You should adjust your chair to a height from which you can use your keyboard with wrists and forearms straight and parallel to the floor. This can help avoid RSI associated with the wrists and forearms. You should not be leaning on your elbow or slouching at all.
You can read our guide to ensuring your home office chair is ergonomic here.
Ideally, you will have your elbows at your sides so that your arms form an L-shape. Your knees should be a little lower than your hips. It’s also important to have your feet flat on the floor. Try to avoid crossing your legs as this can compromise your posture and lead to back problems.
Try keeping a note at your desk to remind yourself to focus on maintaining good posture.
Adjust your screen and work supplies
You should position your screen monitor directly in front of your head, about an arm’s length away. The top of your screen should be more or less at eye level and free from glare. If your screen is too high or low, you may find yourself inadvertently craning your neck. This is uncomfortable, and can actually do serious damage to your body in the long-term.
With the keyboard placed directly in front of you, give yourself a gap of 10-15cm at the front of your desk. This is the space to rest your wrist in-between bouts of typing. Make sure you take a break regularly to avoid undue strain on your wrists.
Try to use a separate mouse. The touchpad on a laptop can be awkward to use and place additional strain on your arms.
Are you working from a laptop at home? Read our guide to working from a laptop ergonomically.
Take regular breaks and move around
It is very important to give yourself regular breaks through the day and move around a bit. You don’t want to be sat in the same position for too long. Frequent short breaks are better for your body than infrequent, longer ones. They give your muscles a chance to relax so that the strain is not so constant.
Whether you walk around to stretch your legs or head to the kitchen for a coffee, get away from that desk regularly – your muscles and joints will thank you. It’s also important to get fresh air – open a window while you work and try to head out for a short, socially-distanced walk if possible. A little exercise during your lunch break would be good, or a home workout at the end of the day would be even better. It all helps to promote a healthy body and alleviate those aches and pains.
Ergonomic products that can help prevent repetitive strain injury
You can help improve your posture while you work by purchasing a good adjustable chair to sit in. There are many available from different retailers for every budget, but make sure the height can be adjusted to suit your needs. A footrest can also be helpful to keep your feet flat on the floor, and it may be helpful to consider a sit-stand workstation like this Active Electric Sit-Stand Workstation.
ACTIVE ELECTRIC SIT STAND WORKSTATION
- Instantly converts any desk into a sit-stand workstation
- 700mm x 400mm solid working surface
- Quick and easy assembly
- Comes complete with a single and double supports
- Power assisted height adjustment
- Single option supports monitor weights up to 7kg and the double option supports monitor weights up to 14kg
Read our full guide to ensuring your home office desk is ergonomic here.
You can ensure your computer screen is at the right level with our range of monitor arms and stands. Simply fix to your desk to make it easy to adjust the position of your monitor for the perfect set-up.
Vision H Monitor and Laptop Stand
The new Vision H monitor and laptop stand has been designed specially to provide ergonomic support to home workers. Adjustable to a range of heights, this stylish and compact design helps prevent issues related to poor posture, such as repetitive strain injury and neck, shoulder and back pain.
As for the keyboard, a soft wrist rest can be a great addition to that space at the front of your desk. To make the resting periods even more comfortable, ergonomic keyboards can also be helpful. A mouse mat with a wrist pad can also help keep your wrist straight and avoid undue strain.
Are you looking for products to help you work from home ergonomically? Visit our homeworking page here.
RSI at home: frequently asked questions
How are repetitive strain injuries treated?
Treatment options for RSI are defined by the unique case. Common treatments include painkillers and anti-inflammatories and cold packs. For more serious cases, steroid injections or even surgery may be needed. Visiting a physical therapist can help to reduce the pain of your injuries. Practising useful hand exercises to stretch the hand muscles can also be useful.
What happens if RSI goes untreated?
If left untreated, RSI symptoms will probably continue getting worse and last longer. They can even become constant, at which point the condition may be irreversible.
Does a wrist brace help RSI?
A wrist brace can be helpful to prevent your wrist from moving in awkward ways that put pressure on the nerves. It may not be helpful for all instances of RSI, so be sure to consult your GP first.
Is it safe to exercise with tendonitis?
A physiotherapist may provide you with special exercises for a joint affected by tendonitis. These exercises will be safe and actually promote active recovery from the injury. It is not recommended to subject the affected joint to more strenuous exercise without getting the all-clear from a doctor first.
For more tips on working from home ergonomically, you can read our guide to setting up an ergonomic home office.