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Repetitive Stress Injuries - Types and Prevention

  • Synopsis: Published: 2012-06-26 - Repetitive stress injuries are not a disease they are a response to repetitive and excessive demands placed on the body. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss.
Repetitive Stress Injury
Repetitive Stress Injury - Repetitive strain injury or RSI, also known as repetitive stress injury, repetitive motion injuries, repetitive motion disorder (RMD), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD), occupational overuse syndrome, overuse syndrome, and regional musculoskeletal disorder is a range of painful or uncomfortable conditions of the muscles, tendons, nerves and other soft tissues. RSI is usually caused by repetitive use of a certain part of the body, often somewhere in the upper limbs. Repetitive strain injury can affect more than just your hands and wrists. Poor posture can lead to severe neck and back injuries. Staring at a computer screen can lead to eye strain. Repetitive reaching for a mouse can lead to arm and neck strain as well as spinal asymmetry.

Main Document

Repetitive stress injuries (RSI's) are not a type of disease, they are more a response to repetitive and excessive demands that have been placed on a person's body.

There are hundreds of identified repetitive stress injuries (RSI's), all of which have a similar cause - excessive wear and tear on a person's soft tissues such as nerves, tendons, or their circulatory system. RSI's begin when a person performs the same task repeatedly, whether the task involves bending forward to view a computer monitor, or clicking their mouse. If their body does not receive enough time to heal the damage compiles and may eventually end the person's ability to perform their job.

People with RSI's usually experience certain symptoms to include general soreness, tightness, throbbing, dull ache, numbness, sharp pain, swelling, burning, and a loss of the strength in their arms, hands, neck and shoulders. Some of the symptoms of an injury may not be clearly related to work. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is one of these. The symptoms of CTS include pain, numbness of the person's hands, as well as tingling that happens as the person is trying to sleep at night.

Fatigue is many times one of the first signs of excessive strain on a person's body, signaling their physical activities have become excessive to the point where they have experienced and injury. The symptoms of fatigue can include aches, pains, loss of strength, discomfort, and trembling of the limbs that are affected. The symptoms commonly increase as the person continues the activity that is causing the injury, and often diminish or even disappear within minutes or hours after they have stopped doing the activity. When the symptoms of fatigue persist even after the person has rested, it can indicate that an injury exists. If a person is still in pain and is tired after resting for a night, the activity they were doing might be stressing them to the point where they have been injured.

The term, 'Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI),' is a general one that is used to describe a variety of injuries. Additional terms that are used to describe RSI's include the following:

  • RMI: Repetitive Motion Injury
  • MSD:Musculoskeletal Disorder
  • CTD: Cumulative Trauma Disorder
  • OOS:Occupational Overuse Syndrome
  • WRULD: Work-Related Upper Limb Disorder
  • UEMSD: Upper Extremity Musculoskeletal Disorder

Some specific examples of injuries that are considered to be repetitive stress injuries (RSI's) include:

  • Tendonitis: Tendonitis is an inflammation of a person's tendon.
  • Tenosynovitis: Tenosynovitis involves an inflammation of the person's tendon sheath.
  • Epicondylitis: Epicondylitis involves an inflammation of a person's tendons at the place where they attach to the bones at a person's elbow.
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition that affects a person's blood vessels and nerves in their shoulder and neck.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a type of condition that develops when a person's median nerve becomes compressed within their carpal tunnel.
  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome:Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition involving compression of a person's ulnar nerve at the place where it passes their elbow near to their, 'funny bone.'

Repetitive Stress Injuries and Common Injury Risk Factors

Certain physical activities have been identified as potential risk factors for causing RSI's. A number of personal, medical, psychosocial, and environmental risk factors have as well. It is important to be aware of the activity risk factors for repetitive stress injuries.

Physical activities, whether they are related to work or not, involve risk factors that have in general been considered to involve some different things. While the human body is designed to perform the following activities, performing them in combination or over extended periods of time increases a person's risk of experiencing an injury. The risk is present whether the activities are done while a person is pursuing recreation or while at work.

  • Force: Force involves the performance of an activity with muscular exertion that is excessive.
  • Static Exertion: Static exertion is the holding of a body position or an object in a manner that is fixed or still.
  • Repetition: Repetition is the performance of the same motion in the same way with the same part of a person's body.
  • Posture: Posture is the placement of a person's joint towards its extreme end of movement in any direction that is away from its neutral, centered position.
  • Contact Stress: Contact stress involves the placement of direct pressure on a person's tendons or nerves by resting a part of their body against a hard or angled surface.

Personal Medical Conditions, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and Risk of Injury

  • Gout
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Fluid retention
  • Thyroid disease
  • Previous injuries
  • Being overweight
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Hormone conditions
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Environmental and Psychosocial Issues and Repetitive Stress Injury Risk Factors

  • Low job satisfaction
  • Inflexible or infrequent job breaks
  • Low support from co-workers or supervisors
  • Fast paced, low activity, or monotonous work
  • Lack of control over the how a person's work is performed
  • Perceived intensified work pressure and workload such as deadlines, bad management, or monitoring

Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI's)

The best thing for everyone involved; of course, is to avoid experiencing an RSI entirely. The general way to avoid the risk factors for an RSI include varying the physical activities a person performs and moving around as they do things throughout their day. Some of the things that people and even companies are doing to attempt to avoid RSI's and stay safe are mentioned below.

  • General Health: Take care of yourself through stretching, exercise, and good nutrition. It helps your body to remain ready for the exertions you place on it each day. A number of personal and medical risk factors can be dealt with by taking the time to take care of yourself so your body can take care of you.
  • Workstation Ergonomics: The actual, physical design of your workplace to include your tools, workstation, and the design of your job, have a big influence on the way that you work. Appropriate design and placement of office items and computer equipment can help you to avoid RSI injury risk factors; the goal of ergonomics. In general, keep the items you use most often close to you so you avoid awkward positions and reaching when you use them.
  • Somatic Awareness: Awareness of the risk factors related to RSI injuries, as well as the ability to recognize the symptoms of an RSI when they happen, are important steps to avoiding an injury. The ability to take care of a repetitive stress injury when one does happen is another important skill.

The ability to remain aware of things such as how hard your fingers strike the keys on a keyboard, or how hard you click on a mouse; the way you position your wrists, fingers, shoulders, or arms as you work, as well as where you put the items you frequently use throughout your day are important as well. When your body tells you that you need to take a break it is important to listen and change the way you are doing a certain activity that hurts.

Products To Help With Repetitive Stress Injury Prevention

A number of products are available that can help to assist people with preventing the risk factors related to repetitive stress injuries (RSI's), or those who have already experienced one. The products can become a part of a program related to the prevention of RSI's and the work you perform, or may be tailored for those who have already experienced an injury.

  • Accessories: Accessories such as foot rests, wrist rests and other items can help people to avoid a repetitive stress injury.
  • Keyboards: A number of keyboard designs are available to assist people with avoiding awkward positions as they use them.
  • Speech Recognition: People who have already experienced a repetitive stress injury and have limited use of their hands may find that speech recognition is an incredible tool to assist them with the performance of their job duties.
  • Furniture: The furniture you sit on, as well as the furniture that holds or positions your office equipment and computer, as well as the way they are set up and adjusted, most likely have the greatest affect of all products on your ability to work while reducing your risk of an RSI.
  • Software: A growing list of software items are available to help remind people to stretch, take a break, exercise, or even train them in the points of ergonomics on their own computers. The software ranges from freeware items to corporate training packages with animations, graphics, and video clips.
  • Pointing Devices: There are an incredible number of pointing devices available that can help people to move a cursor around a computer monitor. Many of the issues people encounter with using a computer involve use of a mouse. Touch-pads, trackballs, and other pointing devices can be used in various physical ways, giving people different options where use of aching hands and fingers are concerned.

Related Information:

  1. Workers Compensation Benefits for Repetitive Motion Injuries - Workers compensation benefits are available for repetitive stress injuries that develop over time.
  2. Repetitive Strain Injury - RSI - Information and treatment options for RSI repetitive strain injury from continuous use of computer keyboards and musical instruments.


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