RSI Health & Safety


RSI Health & Safety

Repetitive strain injury (RSI), also called work-related upper limb disorder (WRULD), is a general term used to describe the pain caused to muscles, nerves and tendons by repetitive movement and overuse. The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands, neck and shoulders.

RSI is usually associated with doing a particular activity repeatedly or for a long period of time. It often occurs in people who work with computers or carry out repetitive manual work.

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is reported by one in 50 workers in the UK

Symptoms of RSI

Symptoms of repetitive strain injury (RSI), or work-related upper limb disorders (WRULD), can vary but may include:

  • pains or tenderness in your muscles or joints
  • stiffness
  • throbbing
  • tingling or numbness
  • weakness
  • cramp

At first, symptoms might only occur when carrying out a particular repetitive action, for example when at work. After work and when resting, symptoms may improve. This is the first stage of symptoms and may last for several weeks.

If left untreated, the symptoms of RSI are likely to get worse and cause longer periods of pain. There may be swelling in the affected area, which can last for several months.

Without treatment the symptoms of RSI can become constant. At this stage the condition may be irreversible. It is important to get treatment as soon as symptoms of RSI are experienced. This increases the chances of recovery and reduces the risk of long-term problems.

Causes of RSI

Repetitive strain injury (RSI), or work-related upper limb disorder (WRULD), is related to the overuse of muscles and tendons in the upper body, especially the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, back or neck.

RSI risk factors of RSI include:

  • repetitive activities
  • doing an activity for a long time without rest
  • doing an activity that involves force, such as lifting heavy objects
  • poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position

Cold temperatures and vibrating equipment are also thought to increase the risk of getting RSI and can make the symptoms worse. Stress can also be a contributing factor.

RSI is most commonly caused by a repeated action carried out on a daily basis. A variety of jobs can lead to RSI, such as working at an assembly line, at a supermarket checkout, or typing and data entry at a computer.

Computer users at work may experience a typical RSI condition called writer’s cramp. This is when the repetitive action of typing on the computer causes painful symptoms in the hands, such as a throbbing pain.

It is important that the working environment, for example the desk space, is laid out so that work can be carried out comfortably. Employers have a legal duty to try to prevent work-related RSI and ensure that anyone who already has the condition does not get any worse.

Types of RSI

RSI is classed as type 1 when a doctor can diagnose a recognised medical condition, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, from your symptoms. It is usually characterised by swelling and inflammation of the muscles or tendons.

RSI is classed as type 2 when a doctor cannot diagnose a medical condition from symptoms. This is usually because there are no obvious symptoms, apart from a feeling of pain. Type 2 RSI is also referred to as non-specific pain syndrome.

Preventing RSI

Many repetitive strain injuries (RSI), or work-related upper limb disorders (WRULD), are cumulative rather than sudden, which means they develop over a long period.

Preventing the development of RSI, or relieving your symptoms, involves understanding and reviewing the lifestyle factors that cause RSI, including work, hobbies, general stress and posture.

Aspects of the working environment are likely to have the most impact on RSI. Employers have a legal duty to prevent work-related RSI and make sure that the symptoms of anyone who already has the condition do not get worse.

Most employers will carry out a risk-assessment or desk-assessment for new joiners. This is to check the work area is suitable and comfortable and that the risk of accident and injury is as low as possible. Employees can request an assessment if you have not had one.

Other aspects of lifestyle can be reviewed by employees, such as hobbies or general stress levels. The most important thing is to notice the factors that are causing or aggravating your RSI and make changes accordingly.

Individual RSI Preventive Measures

Use the following as a guide to review your own work situation:

  • If you work at a computer all day, make sure your seat, keyboard, mouse and screen are positioned so that they cause the least amount of strain to your fingers, hands, wrists, neck and back.
  • Sit at your desk with a good posture. Adjust your chair so that your forearms are horizontal with the desk and your eyes are the same height as the top of your computer screen.
  • If you do a repetitive task at work try to take regular breaks. It is better to take smaller breaks more frequently than just one long break at lunch.
  • Speak to your employer if there is anything relating to your working environment that you feel could be improved.

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