RSI and Musculo-skeletal disorders

The phenomenon MSD (sometimes known as RSI – Repetitive Stress Injury) occurs among computer workers with such frequency that employers, unions and the courts have been involved in arguments as to what causes it, who is responsible for it.

A study of the Healthy Computing Guide produced by Microsoft does not leave one much the wiser.
It correctly lists the warning signs and medical names of various conditions grouped under the general heading of MSDs.
It has some harmless general advice to give about arranging the work-place – desk height, lighting, etc.
While admitting that "researchers are not yet able to answer many questions about MSDs" it urges those in doubt to "see a qualified health professional".
It might be helpful if it could specify what kind of "health professional" is qualified to answer the questions that researchers cannot answer.

The page called Position Yourself offers some vague advice about "relaxed body posture" – whatever that may mean – and about chairs that are said to provide "support".
We have all heard this sort of thing many times.
In most offices one can see people trying to find what they hope are "relaxed body postures" in which they rely for "support" on various expensive kinds of chair.
How many have solved their problems in this way?
Indeed there are "questions that researchers have not yet been able to answer".
Are we sure that the right questions have been asked?

When tackling:
"comfortable shoulder and arm postures" and "proper wrist and finger postures"
the Healthy Computing Guide becomes even less precise
and does not appear to notice when it is contradicting itself.
Some of the advice in this section seems positively dangerous, e.g.:

Having suggested that
"your upper arms should fall relaxed at your sides" (that word "relaxed" again!)
it then proposes that
"you can use your whole arm to reach for distant keys
instead of stretching your fingers".

Moreover, you are told to:
"avoid bending your wrists up, down or to the sides".
This apparently means that you are somehow to remain "relaxed" and fixed at the same time!
You are told to deny to the joints of your wrists and fingers the movements for which they are anatomically constructed!

The section Go Lightly suggests that someone has had an inkling of the real problem, but has not really got to grips with it.
Having correctly pointed out that "it takes little effort to activate keyboard keys",
all it can find to suggest is that you type "keeping your hands and fingers relaxed",
and "hold the mouse with a relaxed hand".
(A clear definition is urgently needed of the over-worked word "relaxed".)

The Healthy Computing Guide gets nearest to the heart of things when touching on "types of low forces" which are thought to be responsible for many disorders – but shirks the conclusions one can logically draw from what it is saying:
All the examples given in the Guide are in fact of forces that you exert on yourself and within yourself – as distinct from external forces that can damage you from without.
This significant point, if seriously followed up,
would confront us with the fact that most people are far from clear about
the meaning of the words "relaxation" and "tension".

The fact that so many people are in pain is proof enough that:
they don't know what would be "comfortable" positions;
they don't know what are "proper" postures.
If they did, they would surely adopt them –
if they knew how to.
There really is quite a lot to learn about these matters.

In our view, the problem of unconsciously self-inflicted damage will never be solved until people learn to look on each human being as a unity in which
every part is related to every other part.

This attitude is at the core of all our work here at the Alexander Technique Centre.

We do not pretend that there is a ready-made, automatic solution for everybody.
But our experience shows that answers are usually available to those who are prepared to learn new habits of co-ordinating themselves.

Firms large and small are invited to contact us for a demonstration.

See also Mind and Muscle, Chapter 30.

Elizabeth Langford, 2002