If you work at a keyboard all day, do any kind of physical labor that requires you to move in the same way over and over again, or play sports like golf or tennis, where your strokes put repeated strain on the same tendons, ligaments, and associated nerves, you are at a high risk for developing repetitive strain injury. And you’re not alone. Hundreds of thousands of American workers are affected by repetitive strain injury, also known as RSI, every year in the United States.
Repetitive strain injuries are nothing new – in fact, Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini is accredited with describing at least different 20 types of RSI in the 1700s. However, as more people find themselves sitting at a screen for hours at a time, working harder and faster in physically demanding jobs, or pushing themselves to improve sports performance, the chance for injury increases as well. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), repetitive strain injury is the most common and costly occupational health problem in America, resulting in lost wages, and costs associated with workers compensation.
Repetitive stress or strain can impact any part of the body, but injuries to fingers, hands, forearms, elbows, and shoulders are more common than injuries to lower extremities. Symptoms may range from mild discomfort to debilitating pain. Swelling, tenderness, and stiffness are common hallmarks of RSI, and some people notice tingling and numbness as well.
One of the most important preventive measures you can take is to simply pay attention to how you feel, and identify which movements or activities seem to be causing problems for you. Follow these simple tips to prevent RSI at work:
It is just as easy to develop an RSI at play, especially if you’re not especially active on a daily basis. Trying to lift more weight than you should, or working out longer and harder than your fitness level allows, usually leads to injury and defeats your purpose. Follow these simple tips to prevent RSI while working out or training for a sport:
A multi-faceted approach may work best to mitigate the symptoms of RSI. Ice packs can reduce swelling and irritation for some people. Minor aches and pains may be helped with inflammation-fighting OTC medications. If you’re experiencing weakness, numbness, or tingling, it’s best to get your doctor’s opinion rather than diagnosing and treating RSI on your own.
Depending on the requirements of your job, or the sports you enjoy, it can be difficult to completely avoid the repetitive movements that lead to RSI. Listen to your body; take time to stretch and break the cycle when you can; and support your joints with a wrap, brace, or stabilizer to protect yourself.