RSI and Age

Question: There have been a few postings to this list on the relationship between stress and RSI. What I am wondering is, is there a link between age and RSI? The reason I ask is that I spent 10 years as a programmer, from my early twenties to my early thirties, with no problems with RSI, in spite of a poor VDU setup, no adjustable chair etc. Then I had a job which did not require as much use of the computer for a few years. Now in my late thirties I need to use a PC quite a lot in my present job and have had a lot of problems with back pain and pain/numbness in my right arm, for which I am currently getting physiotherapy. The two differences I can see between my jobs as a programmer and my present job are

  1. I never used a mouse as a programmer – all input was by QWERTY keyboard
  2. I was a lot younger!

(Both jobs have similar stress levels – usually low with occasional peaks!) Up until now I have blamed the mouse for all my ills, however I am now wondering if age is also a factor i.e. my body is no longer prepared to tolerate things which it took in its stride ten years ago. I would be interested to know if anyone has any thoughts on this or if any research has been done on RSI by age group.

Answer 1: It’s the mouse! Going by the people I have met at my local support group and at the RSIA agm it afflicts all ages although a lot of people seem to be in their forties. The only noticeable thing is that 90% of sufferers are women. Probably because of the type of work they do rather than their sex.

Answer 2: This is a subject that also interests me as I developed it in my early  twenties and have been surprised to discover other people in their twenties with it as at first I thought it logically should be a ‘wearing out’ of the body over time but it seems not to exclusively be so.

Answer 3: Funny, I was just wondering about starting a thread about whether anyone thought there was a particular event which triggered their RSI. Having been a computer user for 10 years, I was surprised when I was hit by RSI last year. In my case, I would call stress the trigger… I hadn’t thought about the age thing… which is a bit depressing as one can fix the stress problem, but not ageing! Admittedly, it was my mouse hand which had the problem first, but it is also the one showing the most improvement now… perhaps because my right side is the strongest. In the “computer users survival guide” it mentions the higher proportion of women having RSI problems. One of the things it suggests is the softening effect of hormones in pregnancy on the structural systems of the body… not the trigger factor in my case. I would agree with Doug on it being to do with the type of work.

Answer 4: I’ve met people who got it when they were 18 — typists, musicians — I think it’s important to know that can happen. (I am sorry to hear you got it then. I know how you must feel. I got my bad back then — though I had injured it before — that, too, by injury.)

Answer 5: Also on this whole subject, I remember hearing a discussion about RSI and schools at some point which was fascinating – I think it was possibly on the sore hand mailing list. The general theme was that no attention was being paid to posture etc at desks or school computing workstations and that this forming of poor posture at young ages was likely to end up being a contributing factor to yet more RSI cases in later life. I firmly believe this as when I went to Alexander technique we decided that my violin playing as a child (11-15) may have been a contributing factor as it was a similar set of movements as that of the twisting and reaching that I later did in my job as a receptionist. I remember the angry tense way I played was the same as the angry tense way I did my job – both of which I hated! I think that the problem of the body not being fully formed is important too – it is more vulnerable to the misuse (in the same way as kids should wear good sensible shoes to stop the tight fashionable shoes deforming their feet while they are still able to be molded to a shape – our whole bodies must work that way).

Answer 6: Perhaps it’s helpful to think that RSI is a cumulative result of a combination of factors being present over a period of time, which implies that you can get it young if the causes start early enough. I started using computers when I was about 6 or 7 to play games or whatever, and started to get the first RSI symptoms when I was 23, which is pretty young but it was more than 10 years after the aggravating pattern began.

Answer 7: For me, it was almost certainly a new laptop. I was so pleased with it; I didn’t notice that I was resting my wrists on a hard and hot built-in wrist rest.

Answer 8: I also began to have my first RSI symptoms when I was 23. I think that it is built up over time, but for me a change in work triggered severe symptoms suddenly. At the time I spent about 2 weeks doing spreadsheet work with a lot of stretching to use the short cut keys. It was a shock to me as I did not normally use the keyboard all that intensively in everyday work. I do believe that it is important to develop good ergonomic habits from early on and this should be encouraged in schools. After all it has left me badly disabled now, something which could have been avoidable.

Answer 9: I was using the keyboard and mouse on spreadsheets all day in my job from ages 19-21 with no problem (I had a fairly new well designed workstation), then changed jobs and used the keyboard all day on a rubbish desk and chair. I developed RSI 4 months into my new job (age 22) and both arms and shoulders got bad. My new workstation, trackball and Maltron arrived a year later – but years on after billions of treatments the RSI hasn’t gone.

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