Repetitive Strain Injury – Prevention if Better Than The Cure
A 2008 study showed that 68% of UK workers suffered from some sort of Repetitive strain injuries (RSI), with the most common problems areas being the back, shoulders, wrists, and hands. A study in Canada (2000) revealed 2.3 million Canadians had a repetitive strain injury in the 12 months prior to the study, and 10% of them had a repetitive strain injury so bad it impaired their daily activities.
Repetitive strain injury also known as cumulative trauma disorder (CTD), occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) and musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), is an umbrella term for a group of disorders caused by repetitive movements that affect muscles, tendons and nerves which often occur over an extended period of time. These repeated movements can be actions, tasks or exposure to compressive or vibratory forces, or sustained awkward posture.
Repetitive strain injury can occur in any parts of the body, but the most common places are back (low back pain), neck (neck strain), elbow (Golfer’s Elbow, Tennis Elbow), wrist (de Quervain’s, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), and fingers (Trigger Fingers).
What Are The Common Causes of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?
Usually, the type of RSIs that one suffers from is very specific to one’s occupation and work, poor postural or ergonomical habits, and presence of stress and / or poor stress management.
Occupational and Work Related RSI
The type of job one does maters. For example in an office, personnel who are predominantly long-term computer users often suffer from back and neck pains as well as non-specific shoulder and elbow pain. Administrative staff may suffer from very specific RSI type, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, de Quervain’s or Trigger Finger from their daily use of stapling, filing. Cleaning aunties often develop Golfer’s and Tennis Elbow from the pushing and pulling loads and incessant mopping.
Poor Postural Or Ergonomical Habits
Sometimes, it is poor habits that contribute to the development of repetitive strain injuries, such as clamping our phone between our shoulder and neck when conversing on a telephone call, reading articles on our phones with extreme neck flexion or “over-doing” a task by taking 10 steps to finish it when it can be finished in seven steps with the same results.
Stress Increases Risk of RSI
Stress caused by fast work pace, ambiguity in roles, work-related anxieties, and monotonous tasks are associated with RSI, especially so if the individual feels overwhelmed at work. Higher stress levels often correlate directly with increased intensity of executing job functions, e.g., typing, filing or stapling harder, strained necks, and decreased rest time increases risks.
“Gan cheong” personality-types or people who tend to be more anxious are more prone to developing repetitive strain injuries. They are often more anxious, aggravated, impulsive and want to do today’s tasks like they were due yesterday – causing the physical body to be more tense. This has a cascading effect of additional strain and load on the muscles, joints and other soft tissues.
Lastly, one can also sustain a repetitive strain injury through a direct trauma, such as accidents and falling on a specific body part, or being hit by an object(s) directly at a body part.
Whatever It Is, It Can Hurt A Lot
Depending on the type of repetitive strain injuries, symptoms during an acute bout of RSI can include short bursts of severe cramping and excruciating pain over a specific location; pain intensifies with activities or use; and noticeable weakness in the affected limb. Some can have numbing sensation or electrical, shooting like pain that travels over a location. Some people get severe headaches.
What You Can Do
- Pay a visit to a specialist to assess the severity of the condition, and they can provide you the appropriate treatments to the problem.
“RICE” Methoda. Rest the painful area, avoid or minimise using the affected area for about two weeks.b. Ice it intermittently with an ice pack wrapped in a towel for about fice minutes.c. Compress and elevate to decrease swelling
Lifestyle Changea. Micro-breaks – Every 3o minutes, take one minute to stop and stretch muscles.b. Adequate sleep helps your body to heal from injuries, big or small.c. Exercise at least three times a week to increase your strength, stamina, and health.d. Plan and Prioritise – Schedule your important tasks first, and complete them first.
Improve ErgonomicsCan you identify if there is a specific activity, device or pattern you realised is causing you pain? Can you change it, replace it or modify it? Think creatively how you can do things better. An example is, if you seem to be getting numbness in your forearm because you realised that you’ve been resting your entire body weight on your forearms as you type, can you bring your keyboard tray forward for you to easily reach and type without resting your forearms and body weight on the edge of your table?