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How to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

If you work in an office, you might think that you are pretty protected from work-related injuries. While you may not have to deal with confined spaces, heights, or dangerous chemicals, you are still at risk for developing a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

If you work in an office, you likely perform repetitive tasks and spend hours sitting at a desk. You grip, hold, bend, twist and reach throughout the day. Movements like this aren't dangerous on their own, but if you perform the same movement over and over hundreds of times for hundreds of days, it will start to harm your body. Even small things like typing, using a mouse, and sitting at an incorrect angle can cause ongoing injuries.

RSI is a general term used to describe a variety of painful injuries that affect tendons, tendon sheaths, muscles, nerves, joints, and other soft tissues. They cause persistent or recurring pain most commonly in the neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, wrists, elbows, and lower limbs. Things like carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and tendonitis would be considered RSIs.

Something like tennis elbow might seem like a small injury, but RSIs are a serious workplace health concern that causes pain and suffering for many workers. These injuries place economic burdens on society in lost productivity, compensation costs, and healthcare costs. According to Stats Can, in 2000/2001, over two million Canadians had a repetitive strain injury serious enough to limit their normal activities, and 55% of these injuries were caused by work-related activities.

Signs you may have an RSI

If you start to feel any of the following, especially when you are repeating a common task, you may be developing an RSI:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Sharp pain
  • Dull ache
  • Weakness
  • Loss of grip strength
  • Restricted mobility in the affected joints

How to Prevent RSI

As with any hazards, it is better to prevent an RSI than to cure it. This means getting to the source of the problem and finding a way to break the repetition of the tasks performed. This could mean changing the way that a task is completed or changing your schedule so that you can rotate between several tasks and use different muscle groups throughout the day. Here are a few ways to prevent an RSI:

  • Sit up straight. Maintaining the correct posture throughout the day, whether you are sitting or standing, will reduce strain on your joints.
  • Ergonomics. You should make sure that your work station or desk is properly designed to fit your body size and shape. If possible, you can also use an adjustable desk or a standing desk to prevent yourself from sitting continuously each and every day. There are also a specially made computer mouse and keyboards to help lower the strain on your joints and muscles.
  • Take a break. You should try to take short, frequent rest breaks to allow your muscles to relax. This can mean getting up to walk around throughout the day or just moving onto a different task that requires different muscles memory.
  • Stretch. If your work involves heavy activity, warm-up before you start and do simple stretches during the day;
  • Stay fit. If you have good muscle strength, flexibility and endurance your body is better set-up to cope with repetitive activities.

Most RSI cases go away once the source of the injury is eliminated. But, if you ignore the signs of an injury and don't make any changes in your day-to-day activities, the damage could become more serious. Take care of yourself and make sure to identify and prevent these injuries before they begin.