Dangers of Repetitive Strain Injuries (and How to Prevent Them)

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Working a desk job might seem like a hazard-free kind of work setup. But on the contrary, it can give way to an often overlooked disorder: repetitive strain injury.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), repetitive strain injury (RSI) affects about 1.8 million workers in the U.S. each year. That means one in every 50 employees suffer from painful symptoms caused by RSI.

Given this, it might leave you wondering, “How do I know if I have RSI? And what are the ways to avoid getting it?”

In this article, we’ll delve into the topic of repetitive strain injury, symptoms, prevention, and more.

What Is Repetitive Strain Injury?

A repetitive strain injury is a kind of disorder affecting the nerves or muscles and skeletal system. Some call it repetitive motion disorder, overuse syndrome, repetitive motion injuries, or cumulative trauma disorder.

Whatever you call it, a repetitive strain injury is a disorder that’s painful enough to cause around 600,000 workers to take the day off from work each year.

Just as the name suggests, a repetitive strain injury is caused by repetitive tasks and strenuous positions and exertions. It is often associated with overusing the muscles, carrying heavy objects, fatigue, poor ergonomics, cold temperatures, and taxing activities. At times, psychological stress can worsen the symptoms.

Symptoms

Among all other body parts, it was found that the wrist is the most common part of the body that suffers from repetitive strain injuries. The other commonly affected parts include fingers, forearms, thumbs, neck, and shoulders.

If you’re suffering from any form of repetitive strain injury, what you might experience can range from tenderness, pain, or throbbing sensation in the muscle or joint to loss of strength or sensation altogether.

Who Are Susceptible?

Working a desk job entails looking at the monitor all day, typing on the keyboard, using the mouse, and other repetitive movements. This kind of profession thus brings about repetitive strain injuries.

But apart from desk jobs, other workers who are at risk of repetitive strain injuries include cooks, dentists or dental hygienists, maintenance personnel, drivers, and construction workers. Basically, other professionals with repetitive tasks as part of their day-to-day jobs are prone to repetitive strain injuries.

Treatment

As of this writing, there are still no quick fixes for repetitive strain injuries. If you think you’re experiencing some of their symptoms, it’s best to go straight to your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Some of the treatment plans that your doctor might suggest are physical therapy, relaxation training, steroid injections, splinting, RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), and more. Your doctor might also advise you to make adjustments to your workstation to make it more ergonomically correct.

Prevention

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Severe cases of repetitive strain injuries are difficult to treat. It’s bothersome, to say the least, and it can gravely affect one’s life. Because of this, it’s best to practice preventive measures against repetitive strain injuries.

The key to preventing RSI is ergonomics. More specifically, having an ergonomically correct workstation can go a long way when it comes to preventing this life-changing disorder.

Here are 10 tips to make your workstation ergonomically correct and avoid getting repetitive strain injuries:

10 Ergonomic Tips for Desk Jobs

  1. The traditional advice “Sit up straight. Don’t slouch!” is one of the best ergonomic tips out there. Slouching can strain your neck and back. But because slouching can’t be avoided, you have to get an office chair with lumbar support. You might also want to move your chair closer to your workstation so as to avoid leaning.
  2. Don’t crane your head forward. If you’re working on a computer all day long, your monitor should be placed at eye level. You might want to consider using a monitor riser to elevate your screen.
  3. Speaking of monitors, don’t stay too close to your screen. To prevent eye strain, make sure that your monitor is about an arm’s length away. You can also reduce your screen glare and rest your eyes from time to time by looking at distant objects.
  4. Another tip to prevent eye strain is to install adequate lighting. A workspace with proper lighting can prevent blurred vision, headaches, and other kinds of pains. If you’re unsure which light to use in your workstation, consider getting lights with warm, yellowish tones instead of fluorescents.
  5. Avoid excessively reaching to prevent straining your back, neck, shoulders, and arms. Place your keyboard and mouse close to your torso and keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. You might also want to get an office chair with arm support so that you can always rest your arms.
  6. Instead of jamming your phone between your neck and shoulder, use a headset. Doing so can prevent various neck and shoulder problems.
  7. Adjust your office chair to a comfortable height. While sitting on your chair, your feet should comfortably touch the ground, your thighs should be parallel to the floor, and your knees should be at hip level right below your desk. If your office chair is too high, you can put a footrest underneath your feet. If it’s too low, you can easily raise it using its riser or lever.
  8. Keep the space below your desk clutter-free. This way, you can have sufficient legroom to position your legs comfortably or stretch them out occasionally.
  9. If your workspace is too cold to work comfortably, bring a coat or a throw blanket to your station. For added warmth, you can also place an under-desk heater near your legs.
  10. Stand up or stretch several times throughout the day. Keeping your body in the same position throughout the day is a surefire way to experience body aches. Many office furniture manufacturers are now making sit/stand desks, which can be adjusted to fit either your sitting height or standing height. Using sit/stand desks can help promote good posture, keep your body moving, and prevent it from staying in a stationary position for long periods.

To sum it up, you have to remember to maintain a good posture as you work. It’s also best to take breaks from time to time. Most importantly, having an ergonomically designed workstation can help you work more comfortably and efficiently, thus preventing repetitive strain injuries and improving your overall health.