Repetitive stress injury (RSI), which is also referred to as repetitive strain injury, is a condition in which motions that are repeated many times ultimately begin to damage nerves, muscles, and tendons. Repetitive stress injuries typically affect areas in the upper body, including:
Any type of repetitive motion can cause an RSI, but this type of injury is commonly seen in people who type and use a mouse, use tools that must be grasped, work on an assembly line, or train for sporting events. They can experience conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, bursitis, and rotator cuff tendonitis, as well as general symptoms in the affected area such as:
- Mild to severe pain
- Numbness or tingling
- Sensitivity to heat or cold
How to Prevent Repetitive Stress Injury
RSIs are particularly common in the workplace. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent a repetitive stress injury from occurring or reduce the severity of your symptoms. Here are 10 ways to prevent a repetitive stress injury:
- Configure your work area to support good posture. Maintaining proper posture — including a balanced, relaxed sitting or standing position with minimal leaning or reaching — helps reduce the risk of developing an RSI. This includes having your computer monitor approximately an arm’s length away from you, with its upper edge at or slightly below eye level.
- Use a supportive, adjustable chair. Adjust your chair so that it’s at the proper height and your back is supported. Proper chair height relative to your keyboard and mouse means having your forearms roughly parallel to the ground when your upper arms are comfortably at your side.
- Use the right computer keyboard and mouse. There are different types of computer input devices designed to cause less stress on your wrists and hands. Using them can help prevent RSIs.
- Sit with your feet flat on the floor. Crossing your legs or ankles while you work increases your risk of an RSI.
- Alternate between sitting and standing if possible. If you can use a desk that can be adjusted from sitting height to standing height, that’s ideal. You should work toward standing for 20-30 minutes per hour.
- Use a headset for calls. If you talk on the phone a lot at your job, you should use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your ear and your shoulder.
- Take regular breaks. Give your muscles, tendons, and nerves rest periods throughout your workday.
- Stretch regularly. Stretching your neck, back, and shoulder muscles helps keep them from getting too tight. You should also get into a habit of wiggling your fingers and toes and flexing your wrists throughout your day.
- Take short walks. Step away from your work area once every hour if possible and take a short walk. If you can’t go for a walk, try marching in place as an alternative.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Your body is better able to withstand stress and recover from injury if you’re properly nourished.
Knowing how to prevent a repetitive stress injury helps you avoid pain, discomfort, and unplanned time away from work.
What Happens if an RSI Goes Untreated?
Repetitive stress injuries can cause pain and discomfort in the short term. However, there are also potential long-term consequences if you don’t follow repetitive stress injury prevention tips like those provided above.
For example, if you develop carpal tunnel syndrome and allow it to worsen, you may need surgery to correct it. Consequently, you should be proactive about preventing repetitive stress injuries and getting treatment if one occurs.
Get Help from Our Occupational Medicine Experts
Baptist Health offers world-class occupational medicine and therapy services. If you have a repetitive stress injury or are concerned you may be developing one, we can help, both with additional tips to prevent repetitive stress injury and treatments should an injury occur.
Make an appointment with your Baptist Health doctor today.
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