Our working life often dictates how we live our lives, a necessity for most, it pays the bills and then hopefully a life beyond that. Unfortunately, due to modern technology and working conditions, some people take home more than they bargained for. Serious long-term conditions can arise from incorrect work practices, such as RSI and Tinnitus. This three-part series of work-related health focuses on RSI symptoms and how the effects can be negated in the workplace.
Whatever industry you work in, it is important that you understand and respect signs that your body is reacting badly to its environment. Knowing how they occur and identifying poor practices can help save you future problems further down the line.
RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury)
In an office environment, RSI is very common. Many people associate it with strenuous tasks, yet at its core, it relates to repetitive actions that seem innocuous at first, but over time can cause serious harm.
Repetitive Strain Injury usually affects the individual’s shoulders, neck, forearms, elbows, hands and wrists, and happens gradually due to the incorrect sustained use of these body parts.
It is generally associated with office work, where workers sit in the same position each day typing on a badly designed keyboard and make awkward movements with a mouse. Sitting for long periods, staring at a monitor below eye line compounds the injury.
Office workers, however, are not the only casualties of modern work practices. Research has shown that any worker whose job contains elements of repetition can be affected. Symptoms have been seen in bakers, who spend many hours icing cakes, as well as factory workers who manually package produce as part of their job. Checkout operators at supermarkets have recently been added to this list.
Symptoms of RSI can range from mild to severe and develop gradually. RSI Symptoms include; 1) stiffness 2) burning, aching or shooting pain 3) tenderness and aching of joints 4) throbbing sensation 5) tingling or numbness 6) weakness in hands or arms 7) cramp 8) fatigue 9) difficulty completing normal activities (such as turning on a tap, opening doors or slicing vegetables)
What causes RSI?
RSI is related to the overuse of tendons and muscles in the upper body.
Poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position can cause long term effects. Continuing to do these activities for a long time or at high-intensity without rest is seen as a major factor.
Working in cold conditions or with vibrating equipment are also thought to make the symptoms worse and can increase the risk of getting RSI. Stress has also now been added as a contributing factor.
Raising awareness for RSI in the workplace is a legal requirement. If your job has been identified as at risk for potential injury, the employer has a responsibility to reduce overexposure. Two acts, the safety act of 1974 and the Safety at Work Regulations of 1999, are in place to ensure employee safety in the workplace. These acts require employers to perform risk assessments in the workplace, and where risks of RSI are found, efforts must be made to ensure the working environment becomes ergonomically sound.
Treatment for RSI symptoms
The causes of RSIs are varied, so treatment can vary depending upon the root cause.
Types of treatment that are commonly used to treat RSI symptoms include; Medication - Anti-inflammatory painkillers (such as ibuprofen, aspirin) and muscle relaxants. Depending upon severity Gabapentin and amitriptyline may be used. Where stress is a factor, antidepressants may be used. If sleeping is affected, sleeping tablets may also be suitable. Splints - Elastic support or splints may be used to help support the affected limb. Temperature - Heat packs or ice packs may be used to counter inflammation or swelling. These should never be administered directly onto skin as these can burn if the either temperature is excessive. Steroid injections - If a specific medical condition has been identified, injections can be administered. Physical therapy - Manual therapy, exercises and directed stimulation can all help reduce pain and rebuild muscle strength when correctly performed. Advice on adapting activities in order to cope with specific tasks can reduce the risk of the injury worsening. Surgery - In the worst cases, surgery can be used to correct issues with specific nerves and tendons. However all other measures need to be considered first.
If RSI is caused because of work or other necessary activities, it can be extremely difficult to prevent an RSI from developing further.
The most important factor in mitigating RSI is to stop or reduce the intensity of the associated activity.
If you can not stop the activity, the following tips may help reduce risk to a manageable level.
Preventing RSI tips Take regular breaks - Taking breaks from a repetitive task can help dramatically. It is recommended that all computer or desk workers take a ten-minute break every hour. This doesn't have to be counterproductive to work, for example filing, or making telephone calls away from your desk will mean your body takes a break from any repetitive typing. Take eye breaks - Rest the eye muscles by looking up and staring for a short period at objects in the distance. Display Screen Equipment is found in almost every office place and it is a legal responsibility for supervisors and managers to keep staff safe. Stand up or move around - Standing up or stretching frequently can reduce the risk. Make sure you extend all upper body parts such as the arms, fingers, wrist and importantly your back. RSI often is caused by bad posture. Moving regularly can reduce problems. Go for a walk - Get up and move during work breaks. Fifteen minutes walking each day can help alleviate general aches and strains. It's also very good for you, so use it as an excuse to get out of the office. Promote a healthy lifestyle - Your general health can be a major factor in RSI. Stress can aggravate any underlying problems so try and make sure you eat healthfully and get regular exercise to keep your body's immune system in shape. Avoid drinking too much alcohol and stop smoking. Smoking reduces blood flow and is known to cause bad circulation, a contributor to RSI.
Tutorcare offers training courses for employers looking to minimise risk to office workers when using screens during working hours. For more information please take a look at our DISPLAY SCREEN EQUIPMENT RISK ASSESSMENT course. The course covers the benefits of good ergonomic design for office workers as well as current relevant laws and legislation.