How to prevent and treat RSI

by Sylvia

How to prevent and cure RSI

Allison Morris recently asked me if I wanted to share a graphic she created  about taking breaks. It’s a great graphic and a good message. Since I’m actually an expert on the topic of the necessity of taking breaks, I will share some of my own experiences that relate to RSI or repetitive strain injury.

How does this have anything to do with style, you may ask?

A whole lot in my opinion.

As I have written before, feeling good about yourself, your activities and your health will help you be more confident, more outgoing and yes, more stylish. I always realise this when I’m ill or not feeling 100%. It’s hard to feel stylish when your health lets you down. My condition was partly caused by my intense work ethic and the reluctance of taking breaks.

The importance of taking breaks

So here is a great reminder on the importance of taking breaks, beautifully summarized in a graphic created by

How to cure RSI repetitive strain injury

How I developed RSI

Since I have been doing extensive computer work for more than 10 years now and combine that with the poor posture problems I described before, it was perhaps inevitable that I developed a condition called RSI or repetitive strain injury. This collective term includes conditions like carpel tunnel syndrome and tendonitus. I prefer to use the general term of RSI as I never really pinpointed exactly what my problem is. All I can tell you that when it strikes, I’m basically incapable of doing any typing or computer work. And I can forget about playing tennis too.

When it first struck me almost 10 years ago, I was totally shocked by it. The intense pain that you can feel from little movements and the complete incapacity to do anything with your arms was devestating for me. I had just started my business for which I used the computer a LOT and loved what I was doing. Giving up my computer was NOT an option.

So I began my tour of ‘specialists’ to tackle the problem and it quickly became clear that most of them don’t really know what to do about RSI. I read horror stories online of people taking lots of medication and being incapitated for years. I decided to do a lot of my own research and together with the advice of some (mostly alternative) practitioners I have been able to keep my RSI under control. I like to share with you what I do, so hopefully you will be able to prevent the condition or use the techniques I use to live with it.

Please note that I’m not an expert in this field, so always seek the advice of a professional for an expert opinion for your particular condition!

Here is what I do to keep my RSI under control.

  • I bought a good chair and use the Herman Miller Aaron chair.
  • The mouse click was the worst trigger point for my RSI so I now do all my ‘mouse’ work with a pen. I have the Wacom Intuos tablet and pen and it is much nicer to use this than a mouse. You avoid those little micro movements that are so bad for your hand and arm muscles. Of course it will take some getting used to in the beginning, but once you are familiar with it, it is so much nicer. A few persons to whom I recommended this have confirmed to me that it made a drastic improvement or eliminated their RSI symptoms. An extra benefit is that you can draw and write with it too!
  • I have software installed on my computer that ‘forces’ me to take microbreaks and rest breaks. Both are also discussed in the graphic. The software I currently use Time Out but I have also used AntiRSI. The breaks can be extremely annoying, of course, but they break the intensity in my work and I always get punished when I ignore them.
  • I use my microbreaks to look away from my computer and out of my window which prevents eye strain.
  • I use my rest breaks to do some stretching exercizes. I stretch out my arms and my shoulders.
  • I go for a remedial massage at least twice a month. Although my pain normally concentrates in my arms or fingers, I find that if you keep your shoulders relaxed and open, you will have fewer symptoms. I actually don’t let my therapist massage my arms very thoroughly as I have felt that it increases symptoms. The neck, shoulders and back however get very thorough treatment.
  • When I break my own rules (like working through rest breaks, which unbelievably I still do sometimes) and get more serious symptoms, I actually work on the trigger points myself. I use my knees or an object to put a lot of pressure on a trigger point in my arm to ‘break’ it and then stretch it out. This kind of self treatment can be quite painful, but I don’t have to do it often and it’s been very effective for me.
  • I try to keep good posture. Still my most challenging task, but I always make sure that my arm is level with my pen, which is why a good arm rest on your chair is very important.

With all these measures in place, I’m happy to say that mostly my RSI does not interfere with my life and work and I can keep writing daily articles for you.

Remember, preventing RSI is much better than trying to cure or maintain it, so even if you don’t have any symptoms, you may still want to apply some of the above points to your daily routine. Starting with the rest breaks is definitely a VERY good idea.

I hope these tips can help you in any way and if you have any good tips of your own, let me know! 

This information was given to you for information purposes only.  Always seek the advice of a professional for an expert opinion for your particular condition!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mrs D

This is such a good post. I have had a similar problem before- I was doing tracing for an animated feature at the time and the hours I spent hunched over a light box tracing drawings caused me to be unable to pick up even a pencil for a month. I had some treatments with an osteopath and that really helped but it’s never been the same again. I feel like I lost strength on my right hand and arm and if I am not careful, the pains come back too easily. I am now using a track ball mouse at work rather than the traditional one and I find that it does work a little.

However, looking at the graphs you have published and no matter how much I think they are true and that they should be implemented, it’s something that employers may have a hard time accepting. It’s a sad state of affairs but for the majority of people, it’s the reality. Hopefully by disseminating this information it will help raise awareness. Thank you!


2 Sylvia

I do hope many people and companies take it to heart. My RSI was quite bad and it never quite goes away, but breaks are absolutely crucial in keeping it under control. I also swear by my Wacom tablet. I have had it for 10 years now and it’s one of the best investments I ever made (together with my chair).


3 Audrey

I had a problem with my right wrist, as I was full-time massage therapist many years ago. I somewhat sprained it while massaging and the pain was recurring. I couldn’t write, or do much with the injury. What really cured me was acupuncture. I did a course of 5 times, and the pain just went away. Before that I could not even open the door with my right hand.
Thought I share this with you.


4 Sylvia

Hi Audrey. Great to hear that acupuncture solved this for you! Thanks for sharing.


5 Greetje

Fortunately my employer does recognize this problem and has the software to forced breaks installed on all computers. It does not happen too often that the warning sign pops up as I am a very talkative person who rather walks up to someone to ask something than pick up the phone. Two advantages: less chance of RSI and better contact with colleagues which gives better results and a better feeling.
I also mouse with my left hand at work whenever I can. It depends whether I am working on my laptop or on a normal computer (complicated story). It was quite easy to get used to. And of course I am bad with posture and the way I sit on a chair. So stupid.
A friend of mine got RSI so bad, she could not work anymore. Could not button up her shirt or write anything for longer than 10 minutes. Which made her invalid really. It improved after years but not more than 30%. So with her as an example I am very careful.


6 Sylvia

I tried mousing with the left which only gave me the problem on the left side as well. Then I had software for a while that enabled you to click a mouse without actually clicking it. Since you still had to make those tiny mouse movements though, that did not work either. So pen and forced microbreaks every few minutes are best for me. Unfortunately, no one to talk to in my office….


7 Heather Fonseca

When I have a lot of work and I’m very tired I force myself to take an afternoon nap. Sounds weird but the more work I have the more the nap is important. I put the alarm n for 30 minutes, close my eyes and do nothing until the alarm goes off. It makes a huge difference in my energy! Great article! I want feel so guilty for stopping work to do a load of laundry!


8 Sean Collins

Very cool infographic. The importance of micro-breaks cannot be overstated for preventing RSI. I spend a lot of time in front of the computer, and remember having an eye doctor tell me that even just taking 30 second eye breaks every half hour can make a huge difference. During such an eye break, it is important to focus your eyes on the furthest item in the room to give those eye muscles a chance to stretch out.

The problem is keeping an eye on the clock and remembering to do so every 30 minutes. That is when a software comes in very handy. Greetje above mentions that her employer has software installed on the computer to force breaks. I believe that more companies should do so, as it can only lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive work environment.


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