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What are RSIs?

Repetitive Strain Injuries (also referred to as musculoskeletal disorders - MSDs) are a group of painful disorders of the muscles, tendons and nerves that develop gradually over time.  Some commonly known disorders include tendonities, tenosynovitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.  These conditions typically affect the hands, wrists and elbows, but quite frequently impact the neck, shoulders, back, lower limbs and spine.

What are the symptons of RSIs?

RSIs generally develop over time. They are the result of cumulative trauma sustained over longer periods of time exposed to several risk factors as discussed below. Symptoms, like treatment, are unique to the individual, but may include:

  • tenderness and pain in the neck, shoulders, upper back, upper arm, elbows, forearms, wrists or fingers;
  • swelling in the hands or forearm;
  • tingling, numbness or loss of sensation;
  • muscle spasms or weakness (including loss of grip strength); and/or
  • difficulty using hands for numerous domestic, work and personal tasks (including turning pages of books or magazines, carrying or lifting things, turning doorknobs or taps or keys, holding a coffee mug, etc.).

What are the risk factors for RSIs?

RSIs arise from ordinary arm and hand movements such as bending, straightening, gripping, holding, twisting, clenching and reaching.  Although these are everyday activities they can become harmful in work situations that require their continual repetition, often in a forceful manner and at a pace that does not allow for muscle recovery.

According to the Ontario Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) there are 4 major risk factors for RSIs; risk increases when they occur in combination.

1. Awkward or Static Posture:

a) An awkward body posture is any change of all or part of the body from neutral position i.e., a position that moves the spine out of its natural 's' shape (e.g., bending or twisting).

b) Static posture is any posture, neutral or awkward, that is held for an extended period of time.  This results in overuse of body parts and muscle fatigue (e.g., constant standing).

2. Repetition:

Repetitive movements are especially hazardous when they involve the same joints and muscle groups over and over and when we do the same motion too often, too quickly and for too long.  The muscles become fatigued and do not have enough time to recover between activities which may result in injury.

3. Force:

Force is the amount of effort our bodies must use to lift objects, to use tools, or to move.  If the force required to perform the work overloads the muscles, joints, tendons and other soft tissues, it is considered to be excessive force.  Once again, activities like this prevent the body from recovering (e.g., working with outstretched arms or handling objects away from the body).

4. Vibrations:

a) Hand/Arm Vibration can affect those who operate power driven hand tools such as jack hammers, air guns and chain saws.

b) Total Body Vibration affects the whole body. It is common among heavy equipment operators and can often contribute to low back pain.

How can we prevent RSIs?

Ideally RSIs can be prevented by decreasing or eliminating exposure to the above listed risk factors such as the removal of repetitive patterns of work.  Unfortunately this may not always be possible.  However there are ways to minimize their impact such as:

  • Appropriate workplace design and layout
  • Ergonomically correct tools and equipment
  • Mechanization
  • Re-evaluation of work practices
  • Exercise
  • Break from highly repetitive work

Did you know that McMaster offers ergonomic assessments for its employees? If you would like to have your workspace assessed please download the Ergonomic Assessment Request Form here and submit it to Environmental and Occupational Health Support Services at Gilmour Hall 304 or fax it to 905.540.9085.

For the Faculty of Health Sciences please submit to FHSc Health & Safety Office at HSC 1J11.

How are RSIs treated?

There is no single cure-all for RSI disorders.  Treatment is often specific to the individual and the diagnosed disorder.  Frequently used treatments include physiotherapy and massage therapy along with the recommendation of regular exercise.  Extreme cases may require surgery.  Employees should consult their physician for diagnosis and rehabilitaion options.

(Information provided by , & WSIB)

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