Repetitive Strain Injury: Who Is At Risk?

Repetitive Strain Injury: Who Is At Risk?

Not all injuries begin with a bang. Repetitive strain injury (RSI), which causes damage to soft tissues like muscles, nerves, and tendons, occurs when small but damaging actions are consistently repeated. As explained by the Lawrence Berkeley National Library's post on repetitive strain injury, RSI usually affects the lower back, shoulders, arms, and hands. Symptoms of repetitive strain injury include numbness, pain, swelling, and weakness.

So with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at repetitive strain injury, what causes it, who is at risk, and what can be done to avoid it.

Causes Of Repetitive Strain Injury

The primary cause of RSI is overuse. When you repeat a specific motion persistently, trauma accumulates in the muscles, nerves, and tendons. Any motion performed too frequently can lead to RSI, but the risk of overuse increases when tasks require a lot of strength or force the body to hold unnatural postures.

Examples Of RSI

RSI covers a wide range of conditions. Some of the most common include:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A condition that causes pain in the hands and wrists. Carpal tunnel occurs when swelling in the wrist adds pressure to the median nerve.

Tendonitis: A condition characterized by inflammation or irritation of the tendons. Tendonitis can cause tenderness and dullness around the affected area.

Rotator Cuff Syndrome: According to our article entitled ‘Frozen Shoulder vs. Rotator Cuff’, rotator cuff syndrome occurs when overuse causes damage around the rotator cuff (the set of muscles and tendons connecting the upper arm bone to the shoulder blade.) Inflammation of the rotator cuff is known as rotator cuff tendonitis.

Trigger Finger: Also known as stenosing tenosynovitis, trigger finger causes fingers to stay in a bent position. It is common among people whose jobs or hobbies involve strong gripping or grasping motions.

Who Is At Risk?

People With Physically Demanding Jobs
Although any task performed repeatedly can lead to overuse injuries, physically demanding tasks increase the strain on the muscles. Workers are at increased risk if their jobs don’t allow them to take breaks between tasks. For example, constantly lifting and moving patients around makes nurses vulnerable to back pain. On the other hand, repetitive overhead arm motions in carpentry increase the risk of rotator cuff syndrome among construction workers.
To avoid RSI, workers should take breaks between repetitive tasks. Occasionally adjusting posture when working awkward positions can also reduce strain on the muscles and tendons.

People With Desk Jobs
Thanks to the increased availability of remote work, even physically intense jobs, such as nursing and athletic training, can be done from home. Fortune reports that 25% to 35% of employees have adopted a remote work setup. The popularity of remote work can reduce the strain caused by physically demanding tasks.

However, desk jobs — remote or not — are not always safe. When working on a computer, employees risk adopting poor sitting and typing postures. To support the body, the virtual care provider Wheel recommends investing in ergonomic home office equipment, such as ergonomic chairs, wrist rests, and an external ergonomic keyboard and mouse. Though Wheel’s advice was targeted at remote healthcare workers, it can apply to any worker that spends a prolonged amount of time at their desk.

People Who Do Not Exercise
Although RSI is caused by overuse, people that don’t use their muscles at all are also vulnerable. When people do not exercise, their muscles fail to build strength. Weak muscles that are not used to exerting effort are less resistant to stress.

Additionally, some sedentary postures actively put stress on the body. An article by the Conversation notes that prolonged sitting can strain the lumbar region of the spine. Sitting cross-legged on chairs increases the load on spinal disks, which can contribute to lower back pain.

Though RSI is common, it is also very easy to avoid. People simply need to take breaks between physically strenuous tasks, adopt the right posture, invest in ergonomic equipment, and avoid sedentary lifestyles.


Written by Chelle Ann Calver
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