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I first noticed I had something wrong with my right arm 20 years ago, when I was a schoolgirl in Japan.
That was well before computers arrived at schools, and the repetitive strain that caused it came from a combination of intensive writing (preparing for exams + writing as a hobby) and playing drums a couple of hours' daily in the school brass band. Doctors I saw told me: "there's nothing wrong with your arm x-ray doesn't show anything", "don't worry, it will probably go away on its own" and "perhaps you should see a psychiatrist". Well, 20 years on and in a job where I use computers all day, my RSI is still with me, the pain is worse and more constant, and it now affects both arms. It was only after my work aggravated the condition that I was diagnosed with having lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), a common form of RSI.
20 years ago it was probably unusual for teenagers to engage in hours of hand-intensive activities, but with computers at school and home and an array of video games, it is very easy for today's children to be subjected to the same level of repetitive strain as I was. What concerns me is the apparent lack of awareness that computers and video games can cause *permanent* damage to children's arms if used in an ergonomically incorrect setup or for too many hours regularly.
The same lack of awareness is also a big problem in workplaces, and I am horrified to hear that so many people get this condition at work and end up losing their jobs. I am lucky that my employers are understanding and sympathetic, and that they are doing their best to accommodate my needs, but even in this model company I see very little evidence of real efforts taking place to prevent RSI in the first place or to educate employees about the potential risks.
One thing I have learned from my experience is that RSI is very difficult to treat once you have it. My symptoms are fairly benign compared to what many other sufferers are experiencing, but medical science does not seem to have an answer even for less serious cases like me. I have tried pain killers, anti-inflammatories, ultrasound, TENS, deep massage, splint, ice, steroid injection, surgical operation, acupuncture... nothing seems to have a significant or lasting effect. My GP and the physiotherapists and orthopaedic consultants who examined me all say that the only way I can be cured now is by removing the root cause, which means no typing and no writing. I cannot stress enough the importance of preventing RSI, as it is often too late to treat it if you already have the condition.
I am very pleased that someone has raised this issue here. I have only recently learned about the annual International RSI Awareness Day (the next one is 28 February 2002). It would be really nice if schools and workplaces throughout the UK, as well as government health agencies and the media, took this up and did their bit to raise the public awareness of this surprisingly widespread problem.
International RSI Awareness Day: http://www.ctdrn.org/rsiday/