Take a break–preventing RSI/MSD.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve had to wear them that I’m aware of wrist splints–but I couldn’t help noticing at the ASI convention that there seemed to be a number of them in evidence, which was not surprising given that we do spend a lot of time at the computer. Since I’m a veteran of bilateral hand surgery for both ulnar and median nerve compression, I’m intent on avoiding further problems with those specific issues, but I’ve learned that I need to pay attention to the rest of my body as well.

It is easy to get so engrossed selecting and putting entries into CINDEX that I seem to lose track of time. All of a sudden it’s 3 o’clock and I’m still at it;   I know that I really should have taken some breaks–the cat has certainly made commendable efforts to get me to stop and pay more attention to her, but I’ve resisted.  While I’m not doing  particularly intense (fast-paced and long-duration) keyboarding, it is fairly continuous and other body parts (shoulders, back, neck) are also telling me I’ve spent too much time sitting at the computer without moving around.

cat at computer
break time?

My workstation is reasonably ergonomic, so one of the best preventive measures is just to take breaks appropriately.  Yes, it’s that simple, but not necessarily easy to do.

In the early stages of dealing with nerve compression, I needed strict enforcement of limits on my keyboarding and I tried several different “break” software programs–including setting the kitchen timer for hourly breaks.  All worked to some degree, but (for me at least) the best was WorkPace®.  What made this program work for me was the customization that was possible–from RSI prevention in healthy user to recuperation in the person recovering from RSI.

There are several things that I like about this particular program. In addition to timing, it provides exercises for muscle groups involved when you sit at the computer for hours and hours and hours–not just hands and forearms.  (Many of these were the same exercises that I was given during physical therapy before and after surgery.)

You’d think that when you work at home that all you’d need for a break is just get up and go away from the computer for a bit –wash the dishes or dust the living room, but that often does not address the muscles that need attention. I discovered that the appropriate exercises of neck, shoulders, back all helped a lot.  With this program the exercises are demonstrated and timed for you. I’ve found these to be really helpful in keeping me from experiencing more problems with RSI or MSD (whatever you choose to call it) and to get up from the computer feeling much better than if I don’t use them.

In addition to regular longer breaks, I was told to reduce my keyboarding speed, and to take “micro-breaks”  or micropauses between the hourly, longer breaks.  Micropauses are only a few seconds in duration, but seemed to make a huge difference in preventing symptoms.

Another advantage of the WorkPace® software is that you can program the necessary micro-breaks, and have it warn you of keyboarding too fast.  You might think that having micropauses is disruptive–but they grow on you and you shift your pattern of keyboard use without really being aware of it.  The software  is “smart”.  It recognizes your work pattern, and if you have paced your work so that you’ve taken the proper breaks or micro-breaks, it won’t interrupt you.

I started using this program when I was doing very intense keyboarding (read high-speed, continuous for hours at a time) and it helped then.  I’ve continued to use it with less intense keyboarding and mouse use because if I’m not careful I find some symptoms recurring even now after surgeries.

While using CINDEX, my keyboard pace is usually not such that the program needs to remind (force) me to take micropauses, so it adjusts itself to my pace and I can work more or less undisturbed until it’s time for a serious break–usually hourly.

Workpace® can be set for different levels of enforcement–some ignoring of breaks, or no ignoring of breaks.  If you opt for strict enforcement, your keyboard and your mouse are locked when it’s break time and there is nothing you can do until you’ve taken the break.  I don’t often use this level of enforcement, but if I start experiencing symptoms, then I’ll opt to have strict enforcement of my breaks.  Sometimes it’s frustrating when I’m told it’s time for a break and I really don’t want it–but since I cannot over-ride the software, I take the break whether I want it or not.  Usually after a couple of days of strict enforcement (and wearing splints as needed) there’s improvement.

My most usual level of enforcement with this is to allow one “ignore” which will give me time to finish my immediate thought, but still make sure that I do take the breaks I need.

The software can even help you select a level of protection/prevention that is suitable for your condition and work style.  I was impressed that answering the questions appropriately gave recommendations very close to those given me by surgeons and physical therapists.  This software has become as necessary for computer use as my MS Word or CINDEX. (If you’re wondering, no, I’m not part of an affiliate program for selling this software–it’s just what has allowed me to keep using my computer as much as I like).

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