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If you use the same hand or arm movements over and over in your work, you could be at risk of developing a repetitive motion disorder (RMD) which is another term for Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS). RMDs affect people in a variety of occupations, including office workers who use computers or typewriters for prolonged periods.

Sometimes it takes months or years before symptoms of pain, fatigue or tingling appear in hands or arms. If left untreated, some types of RMDs can cause permanent injury. Fortunately, RMDs can often be prevented. If you learn now how to 'work smart' and take care of your hands, you can reduce the risk of developing repetitive motion problems.

Take a short break and shake your hands once during every hour you are at the keyboard. Pace yourself - although typing at breakneck speed may get the job done faster in the short run, a repetitive motion injury could put you out of commission for weeks or longer.

Symptoms

If your wrists ache, your fingers feel numb at night or you have difficulty performing simple manual tasks, you may be suffering from a RMD. These injuries result when the tendons and nerves in the hand or arm become inflamed and swollen from excess strain. In more serious disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, swollen tendons may press on the main nerve of the hand, causing numbness and pain which can extend into the arm.

If you experience wrist or hand pain at work, or at home after work, tell your supervisor and seek medical attention. The earlier you identify and treat a repetitive motion problem, the more likely it is that you will be able to prevent if from becoming a serious disability.

Conditioning exercises

There are a number of exercises which can be performed to relax tense muscles. Below are a few suggestions from the WHS Unit. If you want more assistance in this area you can contact your WHS Consultant.

Hands and wrists

Hand exercises play an important part in preventing RMDs. Do the following two exercises daily to strengthen wrist and hand muscles and relieve the strain of performing repetitive motions.

Note: If these exercises contradict professional medical advice that has been given for you specific circumstances, follow the professional medical advice of you medical practitioner.

Wrist Rotation

Make a fist and rotate your entire hand (from the wrist) in one direction. Repeat 15 times. Switch directions and repeat 15 times. Then, release your hands, and with fingers extended, do the same rotations.

Hand Stretch

Make a fist, then extend your fingers as far apart as possible. Hold for about 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat the entire sequence 5-10 times until hands and fingers feel relaxed.

Head and neck

Slowly turn head left, hold for 3 seconds. Turn right, hold for 3 seconds. Drop chin gently to chest, then look up. Repeat the sequence 5-10 times.

Shoulders

Roll shoulders forward 5 times, backward 5 times using a circular motion.

 

Task Variation and Rest Breaks

 

Varying tasks allows using different muscle groups and reduces the risk of static loading from constant use.  This is particularly important when the job role is more sedentary and / or repetitive in nature.  For further information, please refer to Sit Less Move More (PDF 359KB) information brochure.

 

 Source photo: olegdudko
 

 

Rest breaks and changing posture are important to assist in preventing RMDs / OOS.  If you find remembering to take breaks or varying tasks becomes an issue, try these options:

 

  1. Using the WorkRave software which can be installed from the IT Support Portal on the desktop.  For information on setting up WorkRave, please refer to   Setting up WorkRave (DOCX 387KB) .
  2. Using the Outlook calendar to set reminders.
  3. Setting reminders in your mobile phone / device.  This depends on what suits you and what is most likely to work.  Consideration needs to be given to others in your work environment in terms of interruptions that may be caused by the reminder (option 2 may be better in this circumstance).
  4. Using a timer device (i.e. egg timer) that provides some sort of audible reminder
  5. Using another visual reminder such as a sticky note, image or memorable quote.