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Preventing repetitive strain injuries at work

Could your keyboard be the biggest danger to your health at work?

When most people think about workplace dangers, they probably think about factory accidents, falling objects and slips on wet floors. However, any ongoing, repetitive actions — including the gentle tapping you do at your keyboard in the office — can cause lasting damage to your body in the form of repetitive strain injuries.

Repetitive strain injuries can lead to chronic pain and eventually even require surgery. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to avoid the problem. Here are the things you need to do:

1. Ask for ergonomic furniture

There are plenty of ways to reduce the stress on your body — including chairs and desks that are adjustable to reduce the strain on your hands, neck and arms while you type. Asking for furniture that can be modified to your height to reduce your strain is perfectly reasonable.

2. Perfect your pose

You should be typing in a position that allows for a neutral alignment of your body. This means keeping your arms on your armrests and relaxing your shoulders. When your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, you’re in the right position. In addition, your feet should be on the floor — or a foot rest — to reduce back strain.

3. Keep your wrists down

People used to be coached to keep their wrists raised while they typed. That’s actually damaging over the long-run. You need to keep your wrists angled downward and straight toward the keyboard (not twisted) to be healthy.

4. Take regular breaks

Regular breaks to stretch can help you avoid repetitive strain injuries more easily than anything else. You should stretch your hands, flex your wrists and rotate your shoulders to relieve tension. It’s smart to take a brief stretch at least once an hour.

Finally, if you experience swelling, pain or stiffness in your joints, it’s time to see a doctor. Early treatment for repetitive strain injuries can help you avoid long-term injuries and surgery down the line. Keep in mind that repetitive strain injuries are covered under workers’ compensation as a work-related injury — even if you have age-related arthritis.