Ouch! Simple Ways To Prevent Tech Related Repetitive Strain Injuries In Young People

6th August 2015

Last month we wrote about how to minimize your child’s potential for back/neck pain and eye strain due to overuse of technology and incorrect posture and habits. We are an internet based company so we adore technology but we are also aware we have a responsibility to help ensure that the extra time spent using ConquerMaths on various devices does not lead to injury in our students.

This month we continue by looking at how to understand and prevent Repetitive Strain Injury. We had so much to say on the topic that our advice on sleep disturbances due to blue light from electronic devices will have to wait till next month!

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a general term covering a variety of medical conditions due to over-strain. Repetitive action is when you do the same movement over and over again, for long periods of time, when it causes first of all strain, and then injury ultimately leading to chronic pain and a loss of function including weakness, numbness, and tingling.

Use of technology is a major cause of RSI. You’re constantly tapping, swiping and scrolling on all sorts of devices and in all sorts of positions all day without really realising it. 

And if you’re not realising it, then younger people are even less likely to notice.

Since much of this technology is relatively new, we actually don’t know exactly what long term damage it may have on young people with their developing bodies. But we know it doesn’t look good. Repetitive movements everyday combined with poor posture can cause injury to the nerves, muscles and tendons, in the fingers, hands, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders, and neck, which if ignored can lead to long-term damage.

But there is hope! Much of the advice we gave you last month applies to preventing RSIs as well. Limit screen time. Encourage kids to get up and stretch every 10 minutes or so. Discourage them from having their device on their laps and craning their neck.

Make sure their desk and screen are the right height and have external keyboards available. Encourage them to get regular exercise and play sport as the more fit they are the more their body can resist injury – all good advice!


The Fitter You Are, The More Resilient You Are To Injury

But when it comes to RSIs you need to think a bit more, and each type of device can cause its own issues.

Smartphones

Pain management specialist Dr Moshe Lewis says that Smartphones have become a frequent source of repetitive strain injuries. Smartphones tend to be heavier than regular phones. This extra weight can reduce blood flow to the thumbs when using the phone, causing thumb injuries and aggravating carpal tunnel syndrome.” The fingers and wrist are also affected.


The Way Most Of Us Still Hold Our Smatphones On A Regular Basis

So be aware that using a smartphone in one hand puts that hand in a claw position, and moving the thumb rapidly over the touchscreen puts an enormous strain the thumb and tendons in the arm.

Even holding it in one hand and swiping with the finger on the other hand means you are putting a lot of pressure on one finger, while leaving the other hand in a claw position. To prevent RSI change position frequently, periodically massage your hand and thumb, stretch your fingers and rotate your hands at the wrists, in clockwise and anticlockwise directions.

Tablets

Much of the advice above also applies to tablets, except we are more likely to put them in our laps. Holding them in your hand puts pressure on the fleshy part of the thumb, the wrist and the forearm tendons causing pain and weakness.

Before you start to feel this pain try and vary the way you hold your tablet, or even better treat it like a desktop by using a stand and attaching an external keyboard.

Laptops /Desktops

Make sure the workstation is set up properly and don’t put laptops on the knee.

Consider investing in a split ergonomic keyboard which makes the user use hold their wrists in the correct way as they type. Also a gel wrist pad can be invaluable in taking pressure off the tendons. This will be of most use to older kids and teenagers who often have to type long essays and do online research/work for hours at a time, on top of online leisure activities.


A Modern Ergonomic Keyboard

Whatever device is being used, the advice below can help prevent problems so pass it on to your children, students, friends and family. You may be saving them a lot of pain down the line.

Try to take breaks between hand activities of roughly a few minutes each half-hour. Massage your hands and arms to restore the circulation and refresh the muscles and tendons. Flex your fingers, and stretch your arms out to the side, above your head, then to your sides, keeping your spine straight.

Keep active when away from the device and pay attention to your body and possible warning signs. If you feel heaviness, tingling, numbness or pain, stop what you are doing and take it easy. Ultimately do seek medical advice if symptoms don’t improve. They will offer treatment advice and help such as physiotherapy.


Physiotherapy Can Be Very Beneficial But Preventation Is The Best Cure!

This applies at school too and children should explain to their teacher and their friends what they are doing and why. It may not seem cool, but neither is having chronic pain and having to wear a splint!

Children will not necessarily want to admit they have symptoms, as they won’t want to lose their screen privileges. So when it comes to younger children watch them to ensure they are not showing signs of RSI pain.

The best way to encourage better habits is to adopt them yourself so the young people around you will learn from your example, and this will be beneficial to all involved. Good luck and please look after yourselves!