In sedentary work, for example VDU work (Video Display Unit), your muscles and joints are used in such a way that they can become physically overloaded or under-loaded. It is possible to recover from this, but it takes a long time. So prevention is definitely better than cure!

What is CANS?

Utrecht University has a policy on preventing absence and leave caused by VDU-related complaints. Watch the film on healthy VDU work. In the long term, prolonged VDU work can cause complaints of the arm, neck and shoulder. This can result in chronic overload due to sitting still for long periods and making repetitive movements, such as clicking with a mouse or rapid typing. These complaints are known collectively as CANS (Complaints of the Arm, Neck and Shoulder). CANS is a new term for RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).

The symptoms of CANS

After some time, friction between muscles, tendons and bones can cause tendons and tendon sheaths to become irritated and swell. This leads to trapped nerves, and this in turn causes pain. There are different phases:

  • Pain and fatigue at the end of a day’s study or after a stressful period
  • Continuous pain
  • Pain that occurs in the evenings
  • Stiffness in the mornings
  • Problems with sleeping due to constant pain

 What can you do about it?

It is important to organise your workplace well. You can use the CANS test for this, which allows you to see for yourself whether your workplace is set up well and whether you are at risk of CANS. The correct working posture is shown in the short film Do’s and Dont’s. If you need more assistance, you can contact your Study Advisor.


  • Try not to work in one position for too long. Take regular breaks.
  • Try to plan your learning objectives effectively.
  • Ask your Study Advisor for advice about dealing with potential stress factors.
  • Be sure to rest the overloaded part of your body and don’t force anything.
  • Use keyboard hotkeys more often instead of the mouse. For an overview of the most frequently used hotkeys, see:
  • For a more detailed overview of hotkeys, click here (Dutch and Windows only).
  • Try to avoid working on a tablet for a long time. If you work on a laptop for more than two hours a day, ensure that you use a separate mouse and a separate keyboard.

CtrlWork and other tools

As a student, you can install the CtrlWork programme at home and in the study areas at the university. This programme helps you work at the computer more healthily and efficiently, and to improve your work-rest rhythm. Once you’ve installed it, CtrlWork warns you when it’s time for a break and then suggests exercises. CtrlWork is only available for Windows. If you use a Mac, you can use the MacBreakz (under CtrlWork) programme.

If you already have symptoms:

  • Tell your Study Advisor.
  • If you have difficulty relaxing, you can do relaxation exercises.
  • On the basis of the 5 Ws (Work stress, Work assignment, Working hours, Workplace and Working method), check which factors particularly apply to you and need to be dealt with.
  • Do sports, such as swimming, running, walking, cycling or inline skating.