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Repetitive Motion Injury

June 12, 2002

I have never been diagnosed with any condition or injury related to all the typing and mousing I do, though I do get mild symptoms from time to time: numbness or tingling in the fingers of my right hand, twinges in my wrist and forearm and elbow on that side. For a while, I used a bowling wrist brace to help ease the strain, sometimes sleeping with it on, and took extra B-vitamins. Now, I have my keyboard and mouse dropped below desk surface level, and my hand and arm usually feel okay. Of course, as I write this entry, I’m feeling all sorts of tingles and twinges and worrying that I’m developing a real problem.

Of course I worry about it. I depend on my ability to use a computer for my livelihood and a lot of my entertainment and enlightenment. I also depend on being able to use my hands for fine motor activities to make quilts, and no way do I want to give up my main creative outlet. Between typing and mousing at work and at home, plus cutting and sewing fabric for quilts, driving a stick shift, and not always taking enough breaks, I demand a lot of my hands and arms, mostly my right one, my dominant hand, and worry about overdoing and losing function.

When I first entered the world of work and other grown-up pursuits, repetitive strain injuries weren’t something I thought about, at least not in the context of me being in danger of suffering one. That was for factory workers, not cubicle people. My first job out of college was as an auditor for one of the Big Eight accounting firms (there really were eight in those days). PC’s and laptops on every desk were still years away. Secretaries typed tax returns and audit reports, and we auditors used computers only sporadically. We did have a few PC’s in a computer room, and luggables that we took out to some job sites, but most of our work was done with paper and pencil and an adding machine, or ten-key, as we more often called them. It seems strange to think about now. No e-mail? How did we function? Somehow we managed, with paper memos and talking to each other. Carpal tunnel was not in our vocabulary.

I wouldn’t go back to those lightly-computered times. Sure, I’ve got a risk now that I didn’t have then, but the rewards far outweigh that small possibility of injury. I can easily find out all sorts of things I’d otherwise have to go dig for at the library or try to track down via phone (and I don’t much like calling people, especially strangers, and really especially strangers I want something from). I can communicate with people I’d never have the chance to meet and talk with in offline life. On the whole, my life is better now than it was before computers were everywhere. Sure, I have to deal with the temptation to waste hours online, and the risk of repetitive motion injury, but that seems a reasonable price.


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