Hello, this is RSI. Nice to meet you.

Imagine that your profession, your skills, your education, and all of your hobbies all require the constant use of computers. One day after work, your wrists and lower arms are sore, but you didn't do anything unusually stressful that day. You shrug it off, vaguely remembering those stupid carpal tunnel warnings on the back of keyboards, and assume that you'll be fine tomorrow.

But when tomorrow comes, you're not fine. It hurts a bit more, actually. And now it lasts all day, not just in the evening. While you don't want to admit it, those carpal tunnel warnings are dominating your thoughts now. Could it really happen to me? What if it did?

Uh oh.

(This is when you start to realize what your life would be like if you could hardly use your hands.)

Well, you must have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. That means you'll never be able to use your hands again, right? There goes your job. And your hobbies. And your computer-related college degree. Without a job, you'll have to move back in with your parents, on whom you'll be a burden forever. Romantic partners don't find that attractive either, so you'll never have a family and you'll eventually die alone.

Wait, what? It might not be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? It's RSI! What's RSI?

Oh. That makes much more sense.

Repetitive Strain Injury, or RSI, represents a class of muscle and nerve problems often caused by repetitive motions and positions. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a specific type of RSI, but most RSI sufferers don't have it.

If you're still reading this and haven't zoned out, wandered away for some coffee, or started skimming, you're probably wondering why you should care. Why should you spend any more time reading this than you spent on the keyboard's warning label?

I don't blame you. I would have glossed over it too.

Until it happened to me.

I've been in pain for almost a month. I'm lucky - I caught it early, and so far, my RSI pain is relatively minor. But I've had to cut most of my nonessential computer use for a while, giving me far more free time than I'd like, and forcing me to postpone my personal projects. (I had no idea that TV was this bad.)

You know what's the most frustrating about this experience? It's completely preventable. And preventing RSI isn't even very difficult. All I needed was the right information. Now that I have that information, I've stopped worsening my condition (I hope) and I'm slowly recovering.

It's 2005. There's no excuse for a lack of basic ergonomics training for every computer user.

I'm going to go into more detail on these in future articles, but for now, here are the bare essentials:

  1. Sit up!
  2. When you type or use the mouse, your wrists and arms are supposed to be up, suspended in mid-air, not resting on the desk.
  3. The top edge of your monitor is supposed to be at horizontal eye level. If you use a laptop full-time, put it on a stand and start using an external keyboard and mouse. (This is why your neck has been hurting!)
  4. You shouldn't have to reach upward for the keyboard.

Do yourself a favor and start enforcing these rules on yourself immediately. Trust me, it makes a big difference. One day of bad ergonomics can set back an RSI recovery by a week.

This is serious. RSI really, really sucks. There's nothing that can possibly describe how much it sucks to be a computer geek with lots of free time, many working computers, and unlimited broadband internet access... and being forced to waste time in some other manner.

And that's just from a mild case.