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Pain Free PC

However, the best reason to invest in a decent keyboard or mouse is the good of your health. Ten years ago, as a senior staffer on a prominent UK PC magazine, I took all talk of ergonomics with a pinch of salt. I'd spend my days writing and editing reviews and more than a few evenings playing Half-Life, Thief and StarCraft, and I certainly wasn't suffering from any pain.

These days I feel differently. Once you've felt the gnawing ache of RSI in your wrists, you never forget it. In fact, you can't forget it for the simple reason that it never really 100 per cent goes away - it's always lurking in the background, ready to make your working life a misery all over again. Since I was affected, I've talked to dozens of other PC users - journalists, 3D modellers, artists, programmers, gamers and designers - who have all suffered to some degree. Most of us would agree that while certain behavioural changes or remedies can help, we'd all much rather we'd been more sensible in the first place.

According to research commissioned by Microsoft, RSI cases have gone up by 30 per cent in the last year, and while the report puts this partly down to the increase in mobile work on notebooks and smartphones, it's not helped by poor equipment and ergonomic conditions in the average office. That's bad news, but we know that a lot of you will go home from a hard day at the office and, at some point in the evening, switch on your PC at home. This only adds to your risks, particularly if you're a hardcore gamer, a World of Warcraft addict or heavy Internet user. Still, there are preventative measures you can take, and not all of them involve spending cash.

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Some things just come down to common sense. As ROSPA, the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents notes, RSI results from performing repetitive movements over a long period of time, but if you can't (or don't want to) organise your time so that you're not using your PC for extended periods, there are ways that you can limit the risks.

First, organise your workspace. Get your monitor, keyboard and mouse directly in front of where you sit so that you don't have to twist and your hands fall naturally on your peripherals - or at least as naturally as possible. If you've got an adjustable chair - and it will help - get it at a comfortable height in relation to the desk, as having your arms angled upwards can aggravate the various musculoskeletal conditions that we know collectively as RSI.

Set your monitor at a comfortably height (there's no need to add neck-ache to your miseries) and try and sit upright rather than slump back in your chair. Your arms should be hanging loosely at the sides, the elbows level with or slightly higher than the keyboard, and the wrists straight and neutral.


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Image copyright Clemens Conrad

Now look at how you position your mouse and keyboard. A lot of us make the mistake of having the keyboard square in front of us and the mouse on a mouse-mat some distance to the left or the right, but the closer to the keyboard the mouse is, the more comfortable you'll be during periods of extended use. Your arm is constantly working at an angle, and that puts pressure on the bones and tendons of the wrist and elbow.

It also pays to vary the positioning depending on what you're doing. Sure, if you're typing emails or writing your epic fantasy novel, then it makes sense to have the keyboard directly in front of you, as that's what you'll be using most of the time. However, if you're spending more time clicking on web links then move the mouse into a more central position so that the upper half of your mouse arm sits as straight as possible.

The same goes if you're gaming. If you're right-handed, move the keyboard a little to the left so that the WASD keys (if you're playing an FPS) or the function and number keys (if you're playing an RTS or MMO) are close at hand with your left arm straight. Make sure the mouse sits directly under where your right hand should naturally fall.

Finally, it's worth bearing in mind that things like wrist supports for the mouse and keyboard aren't really designed to support your wrists while you're typing or moving the mouse, but to give them somewhere to rest when you're not. In fact, using them while you work can, some suggest, apply additional pressure to the muscle area and aggravate any risk of RSI.
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