We are leading specialists in Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is the term used to describe general pain in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse. It can also be known as a work related upper limb disorder or a non-specific upper limb pain and mostly affects the forearms and elbows, wrists and hands and the neck and shoulder.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and usually develop gradually over time. They can include;
Pain, aching or tenderness
Tingling or numbness
The symptoms of RSI if left untreated can eventually become constant and cause longer periods of pain.
There are a number of recognised medical conditions, which can arise naturally and are constitutional in origin, perhaps caused by injury, hobby or sport and then there are those caused or exacerbated (to make a problem, bad situation or negative feeling worse) by work.
RSI’s usually arise from repetitive, forceful work over a period of time where there is a poor work posture. High risk jobs for RSI include the following;
- Office workers using computer/display screen equipment – typists, filling
- Manufacturing – packaging, assembly, welders
- Food processing – cake decorators, fishmongers, meat cutters
- Clothing – seamstress, cloth cutters
- Construction – sanders, bricklayers, carpenters
- Transport – drivers, handlers
- Retailing – shelf stackers, checkout staff
- Health services – lab workers, chiropodists
- Services – postal workers, cleaners, hairdressers
- Entertainment – dancers, musicians
Legislation in the UK imposes a duty of care upon employers to risk assess the likelihood of employees suffering ill health or injury and when determining whether the work is associated with an increased risk of RSI, employers should consider whether it involves;
- Excessive repetition
- Poor working postures
- Excessive force
- Excessive duration of exposure to such factors
The first thing you need to do if you suspect you are suffering from an RSI is to notify your employer. Even if work is not the primary cause of the condition, consideration needs be given by your employer to an exacerbation / aggravation or acceleration injury both as a result of the repetitive work itself and or a failure to act appropriately by the employer once the symptoms were reported, for example moving you to lighter duties.
Obtain photographs of your workstation and / or a video of a colleague performing the same manual handling task ensuring that relevant heights and distances of the manual task are recorded. Provide a description and or diagram of the workstation, production lines, conveyors, tables, shelving etc. as they are when the symptoms of RSI commence. Give consideration to the following questions about your work environment;
- Are there any slopes, ramps, gradients to overcome?
- Are there any variations in floor level, steps or ladders?
- Are the floors uneven, slippery or unstable?
- Are the floors well maintained?
- Are there obstructions that increase the need for twisting or leaning?
- Is the work area sufficiently large and clear?
- Are there low work surfaces or restricted headroom resulting in stooped posture?
- Is there a good standard of housekeeping to keep workplaces clean and tidy?
- Are there extremes of temperature or humidity?
Cold temperatures and vibrating equipment are also thought to increase the risk of getting RSI and can make the symptoms worse. Stress can be a contributing factor. Taking regular breaks from long or repetitive tasks does help – we recommend that you take smaller more frequent breaks as opposed to one long lunch break if your employer will permit it.
You will also need to see your General Practitioner when the symptoms become severe enough for you to suspect RSI and notify your employer. Your GP will probably prescribe a course of anti-inflammatory painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen in the first instance or using a heat or cold pack, elastic support or splint. You may also be referred to a physiotherapist or osteopath and some believe massage and yoga also help.
If you feel that your RSI has occurred from the result of sitting at a desk and using a computer screen and mouse all day you are entitled to request your employer carries out a risk assessment of your work station. It is mandatory that you sit correctly and the National Health Service (NHS) and Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provide guidance for employers to ensure that your work station does not pose a risk of causing you injury as follows;
- Support your back – ensure you have an adjustable chair. Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips; use a foot rest if necessary.
- Adjust your chair – you need to use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor. Your elbows should be by the side of your body so the arm forms and L shape at the elbow joint.
- Rest your feet on the floor – try to avoid crossing your legs.
- Place your screen at eye level – the screen should be directly in front of you about an arm’s length away with the top of the screen roughly at eye level. You may need to buy a monitor stand.
- Using the keyboard – there should be a gap of about 4-6 inches at the front of the desk to rest your wrists between bouts of typing. You may need to buy a wrist rest.
- Keep your mouse close – a mouse mat with a wrist pad may help keep your wrist straight and avoid awkward bending.
- Avoid screen reflection – your screen should be glare free you can adjust the brightness or contrast on your monitor.
- Working with spectacles – ensure your prescription is up to date you may be eligible to have your eyes tested through your workplace.
- Avoid phone strain – if you spend a lot of time on the phone consider buying a headset as cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder can strain the muscles in your neck.
- Take regular breaks.
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