10 tips for avoiding RSI in the workplace and at home

Covid-19 has forced us out of our work and home comfort zones. 

It’s perhaps okay for the short-term, but Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) are common in office workers due to sitting at desks doing repetitive tasks, sitting at a desk and using a keyboard and mouse, for example. 

According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, over 450,000 UK workers have upper limb RSI.

Similarly, RSI.org reports that 1 in 50 of all UK workers has reported an RSI condition.

An estimated 5 million working days are lost in sick leave due to RSI each year.

In the office, employers may have made reasonable adjustments to support employees with RSI, but increasingly people are working from home; 46.6% of people did some work at home (April 2020), with 86% of them citing Covid-19 as the reason why.

Many have makeshift workspaces such as kitchen tables and even laps.

On February 28, 2021, it is International Repetitive Strain Injury Awareness Day, so we're sharing our tops tips to help with RSI. 

How to sit comfortably when using a screen

How AbilityNet can help people with RSI?

Picture of an ergonomically-designed keyboard show from aboveAbilityNet supports older and disabled people to adjust their technology to meet their needs. You can call our free Helpline or request help from an AbilityNet volunteer. 

In terms of RSI, we can advise on speech recognition software, communications aids or alternative input devices (keyboard and mice) to minimise repetitive keyboarding. 

Below are some specific links providing support and advice.

Call our FREE helpline 0800 048 7642

10 tips for avoiding RSI at your computer

1. Ergonomic and desk considerations

There are challenges working from home especially if you're sharing that space with others doing the same, or children who are homeschooling. Ideally, you'll have a dedicated workspace, which is adapted to your specific needs including your height. Specifically, your workspace should enable you to:

  • Rest your feet flat on the floor. Invest in a footrest if you can't. 
  • If you have a curved desk, sit central to the curve.
  • Place your screen at eye level and directly in front of you.
  • Position your keyboard directly in front of you, with a space at the front of the desk to rest your wrists when you are not typing.
  • Position your mouse as close to you as possible so you can use it with your wrist straight, avoiding awkward bending.
  • If possible, use a compact keyboard, so the mouse can be brought in closer still.

2. Use voice dictation to reduce the volume of typing

There are many ways you can reduce the amount that you type. Operating systems now include voice dictation capabilities.

You can control your computer with your voice if you're using a Mac, or use dictation or voice recognition in Windows 10

3. Adjusting your keyboard and mouse

an image of an ergonomically-designed keyboard with microphone attachedThere are things you can do with your existing peripherals (such as a keyboard and mouse) to reduce the amount that you type. One suggestion is to learn shortcuts or use autocorrect features to reduce the number of keystrokes.

You can slow down your mouse within the system settings, too, which will help to reduce muscle tension.  

4. Avoiding RSI when using devices at home

An illustration of a home desk set upThere's been an explosion in the number of people working from home as a result of Covid-19 and experts say a blended approach to working is likely to be here to stay.

With the flexibility of home working, comes an increased risk of RSI resulting from poor posture. 

Many people will be using laptops and it's important to ensure that these are set up to minimise strain or neck, back and arm pain. When working with a laptop for sustained periods it's good practice to:

  • Use a separate keyboard, screen and mouse (if you can afford it, your employer can provide it)
  • Place your laptop on a raiser (to bring the screen closer towards eye-level). If you don't have a specific laptop stand you could try using a few thick books to make your own. 
  • Take regular short breaks to relieve upper body tension
  • Sit up straight with your back supported.

5. Supporting employees with RSI

Employers have a legal responsibility to provide Reasonable Adjustments that help avoid RSI and other conditions, but many people aren't clear how what adjustments are required.

Read our FAQ on reasonable adjustments for more information.

There is also a wide range of tips included in our FREE factsheet on RSI and computers. 

We also recommend that employees uses Clear Talents On Demand - a free tool developed with ABilityNet that provides a detailed report about adjustments that will help employees be more productive when dealing with RSI.

6. Added flexibility with a sit/stand desk

Illustration shows a man standing at a desk there is a video conference represented on his screenYou may find that investing in a sit/stand desk can help to reduce the strain that comes from sitting at a desk all day. One option is to invest in a sit/stand desk but this is a pricey route. Others offer a solution that sits on top of your existing desk and allows you to lower a laptop up and down.

For a makeshift solution, you could use an ironing board as a desk, which is height adjustable but for occasional rather than prolonged use. 

7. Free and paid-for support from AbilityNet

Call our FREE helpline on 0800 048 7642 for support from an AbilityNet volunteer who can advise on making adjustments to the technology you use or additional tech that may help, such as voice dictation, for example. 

We also offer a paid-for tech tutorial (£99). The tutorial offers 1-2-1 training and advice to customise your device.

Training is also the most efficient way to improve confidence and encourage further independent learning. Many people are unaware of the accessibility and productivity tools built into mainstream packages such as Office 365 and Google Suite.

8. Support for employees and employers

Reacting to the pandemic, we have launched a working from home review for employers to help you make sure employees are well supported as their home doubles up as the office. 

Employees can prompt a conversation using our online tool ClearTalents OnDemand.  

9. Access our FREE factsheets

We offer a range of FREE factsheets you can view online or print. A number are specifically useful for people who have RSI or musculoskeletal conditions. We have a factsheet about RSI in the workplace and another that explores alternative keyboards and mice and adaptations, some of which may help with RSI.

You may also find our factsheet on Arthritis useful as it features tips on adapting your workspace.

10. Where to find more help