Wetenschap - 12 april 2001

High risk of RSI for MSc students

High risk of RSI for MSc students

'My body is not a machine'

International students should watch out for working conditions which are likely to lead to Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), known as 'mouse arm'. Many MSc computer rooms have non-adjustable chairs, which do not help matters.

"Especially international students who are stressed and have no other place to go than the university computer rooms are at risk of getting a mouse arm," says Fred Hoek of the Occupational Health and Environmental Service (Arbo- en Milieudienst AMD). He mentions the many non-adjustable chairs in the MSc computer rooms. Students often work on chairs of the wrong height, adopt an uncomfortable position and end up with RSI. Other factors may also be involved, such as deadlines to meet or personal problems.

Too late

At the moment over ten students go to student doctor Andr? Godkewitsch each month at De Wereld, complaining of pain in their arms, shoulders and neck. Unfortunately many people do not take their physical condition seriously until it is too late, when the symptoms have become severe. As a result recovery can take up to a year or even longer.

Someone with personal experience of RSI is Italian PhD student Anna Chiesura, working at the Wageningen Institute of Environmental and Climate Research. She took nine months to get back to her normal working pattern after developing RSI. "I kept on working for months when I already had RSI, until I finally realised I couldn't even cook or make a phone call, the pain was so bad. Then I went to the doctor who told me I had RSI and that it was related to typing and working with the mouse. I started working half time so that I would get the rest I needed, and my work room was also adjusted. I got a different chair so my body position was better, and a paper holder at the same height as my monitor." Chiesura also benefitted from physiotherapy. "I started to realise that my body is not a machine. I also found out that stress had to do with it." Chiesura was able to return to full-time work after nine months.

Prevention

As prevention of RSI is much better than curing it, students should pay attention to the position in which they sit at the computer, and the amount of time they spend behind the screen. As soon as they notice even small pains they should take more breaks, and it is a good idea to speak to a doctor. Special anti-RSI equipment such as a device that measures muscle tension and computer software are available and the Occupational Health and Environmental Service organise short prevention courses. Information is available from your faculty administration and www.wau.nl/amd/home.

Hugo Bouter

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