Following on from our advice on RSI claims which can be read here we thought it would be interesting to look at what repetitive strain injury is and also offer some tips on how you can help prevent repetitive strain injury in the workplace.
RSI or Repetitive Stress Injury is a general term that refers to pain in the muscles or joints that results from repetitive movement or overuse.
Certain tasks require you to make the same movements over and over again. This involves using the same joints and muscles continuously, leading to overuse injury or repetitive stress injury.
In recent years, computer-related jobs are the most common causes of RSI. Whether you are working as a computer programmer or you are in charge of hospital reservations, chances are you will spend the majority of your time at work hitting the keyboard. This nonstop finger movement combined with sitting in one place for hours on end can result in repetitive stress injury of the wrists, fingers, elbows, forearms and even the neck and shoulders.
What Causes RSI?
RSI can be caused by several different factors including:
- Repeated movement of the arm or wrist without taking adequate breaks in-between.
- Holding the muscles and joints in the same position for extended periods of time without taking a break.
- Working with equipment that is the wrong size or fit for your personal characteristics – an office chair that is too small or too low for your height and weight, a computer mouse that is too small or too large for your hands or a desk that is the wrong height for you.
- Lack of variety in your daily activities.
- Working at high speed without taking a break to rest your muscles.
- Inadequate training in the best way to perform a task to minimise risk of injury.
- Poor Posture.
- Working in a very low temperature environment for long periods of time without wearing proper protective gear such as gloves and fur-lined boots.
Symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injury
The symptoms of repetitive stress injury develop slowly. Very rarely do they just manifest overnight. In most cases the symptoms start off as very mild and get steadily worse if you continue with the same activity. Stopping the activity or taking adequate protective measures can help to prevent the symptoms from becoming more severe.
Some of the more common symptoms of RSI include:
- Tenderness and pain in the joints and muscles.
- Throbbing and stiffness.
- Tingling or cramps.
- Clumsiness accompanied by tremors.
- Numbness or weakness.
- Shooting pains.
- Cold hands, especially the fingertips.
- Difficulty performing common everyday tasks such as opening a jar or even turning on the tap.
Recognising the early signs of RSI can help you take measures to prevent the symptoms from getting more severe.
Tingling, numbness, discomfort or soreness in the shoulders, neck, fingers, wrists or arms are all symptoms of early repetitive stress syndrome. In the beginning, these symptoms may come on only after you have been at the same activity for an extended period of time. You feel the discomfort and pain only after you’ve spent a considerable amount of time performing the repetitive movement.
As the condition progresses, you may start noticing the symptoms within a few minutes of starting the activity. They also last long after you have completed the activity.
When the RSI becomes more severe, the discomfort and pain persist for longer periods and you can feel it even when you are not at work. Continuing to do the same work without any protective measures or treatment can turn a minor condition into a debilitating injury. The symptoms also become more constant and may last several months after stopping the activity. Sometimes they may also be accompanied by swelling in the affected area.
Preventing Repetitive Stress Injury
Most of us understand and recognise the causes and symptoms of RSI but we fail to take measures to prevent it because we presume that it won’t happen to us. Unfortunately, ignoring the symptoms will not make them go away. You have to take active steps to prevent the symptoms from develop and if they do develop, getting the proper treatment is just as important in order to avoid the crippling pain associated with the condition
Some things you can do to prevent RSI symptoms:
Create an ergonomic work environment that ensures your body is comfortable and not forced into an awkward position while working. Invest in a good quality computer chair, keyboard, mouse and other related equipment.
Try and introduce some variety into your everyday tasks. If your work involves long hours at the computer, take at least a 10-minute break every two hours. Just stepping away from your desk, stretching your body and moving your other joints and muscles can do much to revitalise your body and rest your overworked muscles.
If you handle different tasks at work, instead of completing all computer work and then moving on to the next task, consider doing short stints at each task alternately. This will minimise the repetitiveness and reduces the risk of developing RSI symptoms.
Be aware of posture and make it a point to sit straight. If the workplace is too cold for you, dress warmly for work.
Treating RSI Symptoms
If you have already developed symptoms of RSI it is important to get the proper treatment as early as possible to prevent the symptoms from becoming more severe. The earlier you start the treatment the better your chances are of alleviating the pain completely and regaining full functionality. You will also see progress in a much shorter time.
Some things you must do to treat RSI symptoms include:
Consult with your doctor. Self-care is not always the best way to treat RSI symptoms. You could end up doing things incorrectly and worsening the symptoms. A qualified healthcare practitioner will recommend stretching and other physiotherapy techniques that are tailored to your symptoms and your individual needs.
In addition to stretching and physio exercises, your doctor may also recommend regular exercise as well as massage therapy. Regular exercise keeps the joints and muscles limber, reducing the incidence of RSI. Massage therapy works very well as a pain relief technique and also to assist with stretching and strengthening the muscles.
You may also be asked to do special movements using specialised squeezing or gripping devices. These exercises work to build strength in the affected areas.
Making sure the affected area gets enough rest is important too. Without rest, it will only get worse.
The best way to prevent further injury to the joints and muscles is to look into different ways that you can adjust your work environment or your work schedule.
For expert advice on treating a repetitive strain injury visit this page on the NHS website.