Have you ever noticed how your wrists feel sore and painful after spending too many uninterrupted hours in front of the computer? Like millions of people in the United States today, you are probably experiencing a condition known as repetitive stress injury. These are conditions that affect the nerves, tendons, and ligaments due to repeated motions of particular exercises. If you have sought medical help for this condition, your doctor might have also called this Cumulative Trauma Disorders, Repetitive Motions Disorders or Overuse Syndromes.

What Work Can Cause Repetitive Stress Injuries?

Long Hours at a Computer (Data Entry, Administrative Work, Programming, Gaming, etc.)

Wrist Pain from Carpal Tunnel SyndromeThis is by far the most common cause of RSI in the modern workplace.  Most often affecting the arms, wrists and hands, long hours at a computer (without consideration of proper ergonomics) can lead to issues such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  With our reliance on computer systems, and the under-utilization of proper ergonomic equipment like the vertical computer mouse, ergonomic keyboard and computer chair, it’s no wonder why so many millions of workers are affected by RSI.

Artists and Painters

Even if you avoid using a computer for your work, you still might not be immune from RSI concerns.  Artists such as painters, sculptors, sketch artists, or anyone who uses pens/pencil on a daily basis for prolonged periods, can succumb to the same type of wrist ailments that affect computer users.  Frequent breaks, adequate stretching and exercises throughout the day, and the use of ergonomic equipment can help to avoid and treat RSI, in much the same fashion as computer users.

Miscellaneous Repetitive Task Work

There are myriad other lines of work that require the employee to perform the same tasks over and over, such as the original repetition work, the assembly line.  Also susceptible to RSI injuries include:

  • Professional Drivers
  • Musicians
  • Supermarket Employees (cashiers and stock workers)
  • Carpenters and Handymen
  • Construction Workers

The Different Kinds of Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI)

There many different kinds of repetitive stress injuries. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, this happens when the median nerve running from the forearm to the hand becomes squeezed at the wrist;
  • Tendonitis, in which tendons become inflamed, and movement becomes painful;
  • Bursitis, which occurs when the fluid-filled sacs between the muscles and bones become inflamed that results in stiff and painful movement;
  • Tennis elbow, wherein a partial tear of the tendon fibers connecting the muscles and bones receive a partial tear resulting to inflammation, soreness or pain.

Repetitive stress injuries are often the result of too many uninterrupted repetitions of an activity or motion, overexertion, incorrect posture unnatural motions and muscle tiredness.  This happens all the time in the office workplace environment, where employees are asked to do repetitive tasks, often computer oriented tasks.

When you start to experience pain, tingling, numbness, swelling or redness and loss of flexibility and strength in the body part affected by the Overuse Syndromes, it’s time to stop doing the activity. When ignored or left untreated, these Cumulative Trauma Disorders can either temporarily or permanently damage the muscles, tendons, nerves or ligaments. In extreme cases, it can compress the nerves or tissues affected by it. You increase your risk of repetitive stress injuries if your line of work involves the factory assembly line, meatpacking, sewing, typing or any form of computer work or playing musical instruments like the violin, piano and others. Carpenters, gardeners, tennis players (hence the name tennis elbow) and even golfers are also more prone to Repetitive Motion Disorders.

Preventing and Treating RSI with Ergonomics

If you are involved in any of these occupations or activities, you can prevent worsening of symptoms by eliminating the movements that are causing the symptoms. If this is not possible, then a reduction of these movements would help improve your condition. Use of specially designed ergonomic equipment has been shown to greatly help with pain.  Innovative designs such as the vertical computer mouse have come a long way from the early days of decidedly non-ergonomic equipment, but still have yet to see wide adoption in the workplace.

See These Resources for Ergonomic Computer Equipment:

Finding The Best Ergonomic Mouse (Safe Computing Tips) – Also has info on chairs, keyboards, etc.

Furthermore, give yourself sufficient breaks in between work. Practice stretching exercises to relax the area. If it becomes inflamed, you can apply ice to reduce the swelling and relieve pain. Your doctor might also prescribe pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids for pain that becomes unbearable.

Medical management and treatment could also include physical therapy for the affected area. In the most severe cases, surgery may be necessary. You can also use ergonomic keyboards and other like-designed office equipment to prevent a worsening of symptoms. Observing proper posture while at your desk will also help a great deal in minimizing the pain and the symptoms. Because of expanding knowledge about this condition, many employers have implemented so-called ergonomic programs to address this issue. When left unattended, however, the area may suffer a total loss of function. Thus, you need to be aware of the movements causing your body pain or soreness and immediately take steps to address it.

Legal Recourse for RSI on the Job?

Workplace regulations have been put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for exactly the reasons stated above.  Furthermore, there is significant legal action taken to compensate workers for injuries sustained on the job.  It falls under the classification of Workers Compensation, which has different laws in each State, plus additional Federal laws. You should consult a lawyer in your area if you feel you have sustained significant injury while on the job.  Here are some lawyers that handle workers compensation claims:

LaBovick Law Group – (Florida)

Other Resources for Ergonomic Workplace Regulations and Guidelines:

http://www.oshainfo.gatech.edu/comptemplabor/Session%206_Ergonomics_and_TempWorkers.pptx