Computer/typing injuries: Keys to prevention

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Positioning, posture, and preparation can help clinicians and staff avoid repetitive strain injuries.



In a practice that lives on frequent typing and computer use, repetitive strain injuries pose an occupational hazard. These painful injuries can dampen quality of life and disable you or a staff member.

The best way to deal with repetitive strain injuries is to avoid them. Here are some simple precautions.

How repetitive strain injuries happen

Repetitive strain injuries result from repeated physical movements. Symptoms vary, but include tightness, stiffness, soreness, or burning in the hands, wrists, fingers, and/or elbows. Tingling, coldness, or numbness in these joints may also occur. Persons with such injuries might be awoken at night by the pain, or they may lose strength and coordination and become clumsy. Pain after a few seconds of typing may signal a repetitive strain injury, as can moderate wrist pain after typing a lengthy document.

Computer typing and mouse use require repeated movements that strain or damage tendons, nerves, and muscles in the hands, arms, wrists, shoulders, and neck. A touch typist who can type fast without looking at the keyboard is at higher risk of repetitive strain injuries than a slower typist who “hunts and pecks” at keys, because slower typing does not cause as much strain.

Today’s medicolegal climate, however, demands that clinicians keep legible (ie, electronic) records, which means additional typing and clicking for you and your staff.

What is worse, computers often are placed in spots for which they were not designed, making mouse and keyboard work awkward and physically taxing. This is particularly true in older hospitals, where charting areas typically were designed for writing but not typing.

Prevention strategies

Harvard RSI Action, a Harvard University student group dedicated to repetitive strain injury education and prevention, offers the following advice:Text-entry solutions: which ‘type’ is right for you ?” Psyber Psychiatry, February 2003). Do not type if you cannot do so for more than 10 minutes without pain.1

Voice recognition software not only processes text but can also be used for Web browsing, launching applications, sending e-mail, and completing forms. But although this technology has improved dramatically in recent years, it is not yet 100% accurate or integrated into all computer applications used by physicians. Popular voice recognition programs include Scansoft Dragon Naturally Speaking and IBM ViaVoice.

Related resources

Typing Injury Frequently Asked Questions.


Dr. Luo reports no financial relationship with any company whose products are mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed by Dr. Luo in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of CURRENT PSYCHIATRY.

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