A comprehensive guide to overcoming Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): Part I

Writing algorithms for robots is fun, so fun that one can really loose track of time spent at a computer. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a gradual process of straining tendons and muscles in the wrist, hand and arm due to repetitive strenuous motions such as using a computer mouse or typing. This can result in wrist tendonitis and in more serious cases affect the nerves leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.

In this three part guide we explore hardware, software and exercise strategies for effectively managing RSI. Let’s begin by looking at hardware hacks.

Ergonomic equipment

Assuming you already have access to a height adjustable chair and desk, creating an ergonomic workspace anywhere requires a specialised laptop stand, mouse and keyboard. I tested several keyboards and computer mice before choosing a pair that is also easy to travel with and set up in a coffee shop (not ideal but fine for very short periods of working). Below is a photo of the before and after setup at a desk.

The Evoluent4 wireless mouse (available here) is 246g and is moulded in such a way that the hand remains in more of a resting postition. The mouse tracker speed can be adjusted, there are three buttons and a roller (for scrolling) as well as a generous thumb rest. What is not so great about this mouse is that if positioned incorrectly (too far from your body) it can lead to strain along your arm. I found that putting a small gel pad under my arm was helpful in relieving strain.

I also tried the 3M Anir vertical mouse (available here) which keeps your hand in a vertical position. The mouse has two buttons. The bottom finger button can be assigned by the user and the top thumb button allows for left and right clicking. It takes some time to get used to but works very well for relieving strain. One disadvantage is the lack of a scroll button which can be very annoying whilst browsing the web.

The Microsoft ergonomic keyboard (available here) is a classic gamer’s split keyboard design. It also has a built in resting pad allowing for prolonged typing in a resting position. I did notice that this keyboard is probably more suitable for touch typing and the keyboard battery housing has a slot for storing the USB wireless transmitter.  It does provide adequate relief from strain despite its bulky size and also comes with a height attachment and separate keypad.


Microsoft ergonomic keyboard

The posturite bluetooth compact keyboard (available here) forces you to draw your hands and arms inwards thus avoiding the shoulder strain of reaching out to grab your mouse. It does have a numeric keyboard that slides out from the side which is useful for working on Excel spreadsheets. I liked this better than the Microsoft ergonomic keyboard for who reasons: firstly, the size is convenient for travel and secondly I found I could type faster and for longer without feeling strain on the posturite keyboard.

The last piece of ergonomic equipment I used is the Fellowes memory foam wrist rest (available here). It is perfect to use with an ergonomic keyboard and takes the pressure off the wrists while typing. It also comes in a softer gel version (although the gel one tends to need replacing sooner). I found that pairing a wrist pad with the posturite compact keyboard provided the best support for me.


Fellowes memory foam wrist rest with the posturite compact keyboard

Finding the right ergonomic equipment can take time. It’s worthwhile trying out different setups to see which works best.

Ultimately the equipment is meant to help reduce strain but it does not eliminate it altogether. Taking regular breaks and rest days is very important for managing repetitive strain injury. In Part II we look at software strategies for combating RSI.


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