The term Repetitive Strain Injury, RSI, was first used in the 1700s to describe injuries sustained by industrial workers in Italy. Today, more than 300 years later, while those working in the manual labor field continue to be at risk for developing a repetitive strain injury, RSIs also impact those who work in offices, the medical field, and anyone who uses modern technological devices.
Ergonomics and onsite physical therapy are
both solutions for ongoing RSI injuries in the workplace.
What Is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?
A Repetitive Strain Injury is a general term used to describe muscle, nerve, and tendon pain/discomfort caused by repetitive motions and movement. Because of the frequent repetitive movements of the upper body, RSI most commonly affects:
- Elbows and forearms
- Wrists and hands
- Neck and shoulders
There are many different types of RSI injuries, each with their own treatment plans. However, regardless of type of RSI injury, medical experts agree, improved workplace practices to reduce the risk of initial discomfort is the best injury prevention plan.
Repetitive Strain Injury Symptoms
An RSI can affect just about any part of the human body; however, the most common repetitive injuries are seen in the upper body. This is likely because of the repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, compression, and sustained awkward positions we put our upper body though.
RSI symptoms can range from mild to severe and usually develop gradually regardless of body location.
Elbow and Forearm
- Grasping tools
- Working on an assembly line
- Lifting heavy objects
- Not having enough recovery breaks
- Pain or pinching
- Pulsating in the area
Wrist and Hand
- Using a mouse
- Typing on a keyboard
- Holding or texting on a cellphone
- Swiping items at a checkout
- Pain or aching
- Numbness or tingling
Neck and Shoulder
- Holding phone to ear
- Maintaining same posture for too long
- Work in cold conditions
- Lifting items above head, repetitively
Can RSI Go Away? How Long Does It Take to Heal?
The first step in treating an RSI is getting a proper diagnosis from a medical professional. Next, it is important that the task or activity causing the RSI be modified or eliminated. If the root cause of the RSI is not addressed (i.e. the repetitive motion causing the injury), no treatment plan will resolve the injury
When an RSI is diagnosed in the early stages, the injury is very receptive to treatment. Often a medical professional will suggest relieving symptoms from an acute RSI with anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and an ice or heat pack.
If the RSI is chronic, treatment is more challenging. Long-term changes will likely have to be made including exercises to improve posture, fitness, and strength. Additionally, a person’s overall wellness may need to be addressed with diet and habit changes.
How Do You Know If Your Employees Are At Risk for Repetitive Strain Injury?
An RSI can occur to anyone, regardless of industry or job description, if they are consistently completing the same repetitive movements. When employees use the same muscles, in the same way over and over again, the muscles, tendons, and nerves can become damaged.
For employers looking to reduce the risk of RSI in their employees, limiting repetitive activities is the first step. Some activities that can increase the likelihood of an employee developing an RSI are:
- Maintaining the same posture for a long period of time
- Lifting heavy objects over head
- Utilizing an awkward or abnormal posture
- Gripping tools with force
- Looking down or up for an extended period
- Sitting at a computer, answering phones, or typing for long periods
- Poor physical health or lack of exercise
Additionally, employers should be aware of employees with previous injuries or conditions. If an employee has suffered from an injury, such as rotator cuff tear or carpel tunnel, they are predisposed to an RSI.
Repetitive Strain Injury Prevention
There are several ways to limit the amount of repetition an employee completes over the course of a day.
- Mandatory Stretch Breaks
Taking frequent breaks throughout the day is a highly-effective way to prevent an RSI. These breaks do not have to be long – 30-60 seconds is sufficient. The break should include standing up and some sort of movement. The movement could include walking in place, stretching high and low, flexing hands and wrists.
- Job-Task Rotation
Many companies are modifying the jobs they are asking employees to complete through task rotation. While the job tasks themselves do not change, the people completing those tasks do. One example can be seen in the industrial setting, on a manufacturing line. No longer is one person completing the same task, over and over. Instead, three different people, with three different tasks, rotate through the tasks to vary their body posture and limit the repetition on the same muscle groups.
- Proper Posture Training
Education is another key piece to preventing RSI. If employees do not understand how their body posture or repetitious movements are putting them at risk of injury, they cannot fix the issue.
- Incorporate Ergo Equipment
Ergonomic equipment is designed to reduce the risk of RSI. Whether it’s using a headset instead of the ringer when answering the phones or installing a stool so a task doesn’t have to be completed overhead, simple ergonomic adjusts can have a significant impact on preventing RSIs.
Regardless of industry, or job-task, repetitious movements put a person’s muscles, tendons, and nerves at risk of developing a RSI. While treatment for an acute RSI is straight-forward, prevention is key to avoiding long-term chronic injuries that can develop from repetitive actions.
To learn more about how to prevention RSIs, or how Briotix Health can help improve employee health and wellness, reduce discomfort, and prevent repetitive motion injuries, contact us today.