The Facts About
Repetitive Strain Injuries
What is the Typing Injury FAQ? What is your role?
The Typing Injury FAQ (TIFAQ) was created by Dan Wallach, an undergraduate computer sciences major that started to experience repetitive strain injury (RSI) symptoms in the early 1990s. He collected information and posted it online as a newsgroup FAQ (frequently asked questions)--until the Web became popular and it was converted to a website. Since then, the TIFAQ has evolved into a repository of information about RSIs, resources for dealing with these ailments, and assistive products to reduce injury risk and symptoms. While its primary focus is on computer users at risk of injury, there is lots of information of general interest that relates to other life activities as well.
My role with the TIFAQ website is what I'd call content development and webmastering. I became actively involved with the TIFAQ after I had completed my masters thesis on alternative keyboards and offered to help update some of its old information. As Dan was working to complete his Ph.D. in computer sciences, he was looking for someone to take over maintenance of the TIFAQ--which I eventually ended up doing. Currently the TIFAQ has become a publication of the CTD Resource Network, Inc.--a new California nonprofit organization formed to provide educational and charitable services to the RSI community.
The term "repetitive strain injury (RSI)" is a general, umbrella term covering a host of injuries that all have a similar cause: excessive wear and tear on the soft tissues of the body (tendons, nerves, circulatory system, etc.). While descriptive of its suspected cause, RSI tells little about what is damaged and the corrective measures needed to heal the injury. Specific examples of injuries typically considered RSIs include tendonitis, tenosynovitis, epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, etc. Other similar terms to RSI that you might see include:
Symptoms and locations vary as much as the disorders represented. Typical injury symptoms include tightness, general soreness, dull ache, throbbing, sharp pain, numbness, tingling. burning, swelling, and loss of strength in your upper extremities (hands, arms, shoulders, and neck). While some of these can be descriptive of general fatigue, it is always best to see your physician if you experience any of these symptoms for several days in a row.
RSIs are a response to excessive and
repetitive demands placed on the body. From the typical engineering/biomechanical
viewpoint, identified physical
It is important to note that our bodies are designed to perform all of these activities, however, as they are done in combination, and for extended periods of time, risk of injury increases. This is true whether the activities are performed at work or play.
Personal, medical conditions may increase the risk of injury. For CTS, these conditions include:
Environmental/Psychosocial issues that have
been identified to contribute to
The general key is to avoid the above mentioned risk factors - move around and vary the physical activities that you do throughout the day. Below are some avenues that companies and individuals are following in the attempt to stay healthy and safe.
Are there special RSI considerations for Web users?
Typical issues with RSIs focus on the physical setup and user behavior. Depending upon the speed of internet connections--and web page sizes--there can be significant pauses when downloading new pages. User behavioral issues I've heard discussed from past observational studies include a "freezing" in place, holding of one's breath, or continuing to grasp the mouse while waiting for the next page or option to appear to the user. These display "down" times are perfect opportunities for users to disconnect from the computer, look away from the monitor to rest the eyes, and stand and stretch.
Software designs that focus only mouse use, or require holding down a button during a given function, force a lot more activity into a limited set of body motions. Allowing keyboard short-cuts and multiple alternative means of executing commands facilitates a broader set of physical movements and variety. As this relates to RSIs, I feel that it is important to provide well-designed tables of contents, site maps, and search capabilities to reduce the need of excessive scrolling and clicking to find the information of interest. While shorter pages reduce the need to scroll, more clicking is required. For longer pages there are several different methods to scroll--scroll bar use with the mouse; keyboard space, arrow, and page up/down keys--and pages can usually be printed out as well. Page length should be tailored to the information being presented. If the pages get too long, then a table of contents can be placed on a primary page with a brief introduction and the contents broken up in logical divisions of information.
Where users are already injured or disabled, they may use Web browsers that don't recognize graphics or need additional descriptions for the use of screen readers, speech recognition applications, etc.
In a recent issue of the Internet Technical Group's (ITG) Internetworking newsletter, Lila Laux published an article on Designing Accessible Web Pages and Web Applications.
Excellent sites providing "how-to" information for designing accessible Web sites are supported by the Trace Research & Development Center at the University of Wisconsin and the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Some general information and preventative books for the general public include:
There are a wide variety of accessories, devices, software, etc. available on the market that have a diverse range of claims and research behind them. Some products are very useful in positioning computer input devices (keyboards, mice, etc.) and monitors to improve user postures during use. The same can be said about the design of newer keyboards, mice, etc. Some ergonomists de-emphasize product-based approaches when dealing with RSIs and move their focus onto behavioral issues of the users and how they use their existing equipment. Both the physical work environment and our own behaviors in that environment interact in our efforts to prevent RSIs. The better the user is educated about RSIs, the more likely they will be avoided or adequately addressed in their early stages to avoid the possible chronic pain and disability that can result from severe cases.
For more information on products and related comments, I'd suggest users visit the Typing Injury FAQ. It is constantly being updated and contains a massive amount of products, information, and links to other resources.
Some other RSI-related organizations with their own newsletters and informational packets are:
Some organizations, newsletters, and resources on the Web issues, I'd recommend:
(This interview was conducted via email by John S. Rhodes)
Read another popular interview: Interaction Design: The Guru Speaks
© 1999 by John S. Rhodes. All rights
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