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Upper limb disorders

Upper Limb Disorders (ULDs) is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of related injuries to the muscles, nerves, tendons and other soft body tissues of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder and spine. Symptoms that may arise from the use of a computer include pain, numbness, aching, tiredness and tingling in these areas. These symptoms can be diverse and may not appear consistently; this may make recognition of a problem difficult. If you experience symptoms please contact your doctor and/or (if you are a member or employee of the University of Cambridge)  Occupational Health without delay.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) favour the use of the term Upper Limb Disorders to describe this range of musculoskeletal disorders. Other terms in general use include Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD).

In the UK, GPs receive relatively little training in musculoskeletal disorders. Ideally your doctor will refer you to a specialist who has taken an interest in ULD/RSI-type conditions, usually a rheumatologist or neurologist, for a more complete diagnosis.

Causes

Currently ULDs are thought to be the result of workers

  • maintaining one position for a long time with little or no movement
  • repeating the same movement or movements
  • feeling stressed

Computer users may be particularly affected, as they may

  • spend prolonged periods sitting at a workstation, clutching and dragging a mouse
  • repeatedly make small movements like pressing keys or clutching and dragging a mouse
  • have tense muscles caused by deadlines or other stress-creating factors

Prevention is better than cure

There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of developing these symptoms.

  • Workstation environment
    Ensure you maintain the correct posture and your workstation is appropriately positioned.
    Details of workstation preparation and good posture can be found in the Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Display Screen Equipment (VDUs) in the University of Cambridge
  • Breaks
    Take frequent breaks from the computer. These reduce eyestrain and can reduce muscular tension. Current recommendations are to stop for one minute every 10 minutes and to take longer periods away from the computer throughout the day.
  • Exercise
    Take regular exercise. Do simple stretching and shaking exercises whilst taking a break from the computer.
    Try the ones on the RSI Web Page or the 'exercise breaks' from the book ComputerFit (Staying Healthy in a Computer-Based Workforce) by Randall Helm.
    Try swimming, walking or yoga to help you relax and improve your circulation.
    Note: If you already have RSI symptoms taking up a racket sport is not recommended.

Within the University there is some advice available:

Further Information

Last updated: April 2014