Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is defined as “pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movements and overuse”. It is also known as work-related upper limb disorder, frequently present in the forearm, wrist, hands, neck, shoulder and back.
There are two types of RSI. Type 1 covers a number of medical conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome (forearm or arm weakness) and tennis elbow. Type 2 RSI describes the state where the symptoms exist without any obvious medical cause.
According to recent research, 5.4million workdays were lost last year in the UK due to RSI, costing £20bn in lost productivity to the UK economy. A recent European study found that an estimated 25 million workers are working in painful or tiring positions.
So RSI is responsible for a significant loss of productivity in UK firms.
Managers have a legal obligation to risk-assess all employees’ working conditions and to prevent the onset of RSI; also, if pre-existing, they must prevent the condition from worsening. The risk assessment of the employee is followed by a workplace assessment of the working environment. These are often done when a new employee begins work.
Together these assessments give managers the tools needed to prevent the syndrome occurring or worsening.
Prevention of RSI
Any worker who repeats the same set of mechanical movements is at risk.
Workers using computers must ensure that their seat, keyboard, mouse and screen are correctly aligned for good posture and they should take regular breaks. They should be taught how to sit to minimise strain, and should be taught how to take appropriate care of their posture outside of working hours.
Manual workers need a detailed analysis of the repetitive movements that they undertake. This, coupled with an understanding of the soft tissue strain and resulting stresses, can be used to modify the movement, tools and working conditions to reduce the risk of RSI occurring.
Workstation analysis is fairly simple to apply and staff can be taught how to do this themselves. Analysis of manual working conditions is a more complicated matter and is specific to every role. Rapid Entire Body Analysis (REBA) is a perfect example of an assessment that can be applied to each job and modifications can be made to the work done as a result.
When RSI Symptoms Exist
When the symptoms of RSI exists in workers, managers must act.
Interventions will include many of the features present in the prevention strategies of RSI, such as posture analysis and correction. But where the condition is already occurring, further physiological steps may need to be taken to facilitate a more speedy recovery and return to normal work. And to avoid a repeat of the problem and absence, preventative action is essential.
Workplace massage is a useful tool to relieve muscle tension and promote good circulation, therefore allowing more oxygen and nutrients to the area to help it recover.
A programme of appropriate physical activity, designed by a qualified exercise specialist, will maintain equilibrium across muscle groups, reducing stresses in any one particular area (assuming that the causes of the RSI are also dealt with).
These cost effective interventions have been seen to not only speed up an employee’s return to work, but also raise morale and motivation and improve general wellbeing. They also avoid RSI occurring and hence avoid reduced productivity and absence.
Jenny Weller can be contacted via her firm, Rapid Results Personal Training.