What is Repetitive Strain Injury? RSI Awareness Day 2022
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February 28 is International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day, which is dedicated to RSI education and prevention.
In December 2021 the HSE published work-related musculoskeletal disorders statistics for the UK which estimated that there were 470,000 workers affected by work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Of this number 45% involved the upper limb or neck.
Meaning & Origin of RSI
RSI stands for ‘repetitive strain injury’. It was a term first applied to upper limb symptoms being reported by computer/keyboard operators in Australia in the 1980’s in what was then heralded as the ‘RSI epidemic’. It was at that time a label being applied by some clinicians to a cluster of reported symptoms where they could find no recognisable medical diagnosis.
Since that time RSI has evolved into more mainstream usage. It is now a term used by people to describe pain they are experiencing caused by any occupational activity involving repetitive movements and overuse – not just limited to computer/keyboard operation.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) does not promote or encourage the use of the term ‘RSI’ as it considers the term to be misleading because it suggests the condition can only arise where there is repetition of movement when there are other risk factors which have equal or greater significance (such as the application of force). The HSE utilise the term ‘work-related upper limb disorders’ or ‘WRULD’s’ to describe these conditions.
What is RSI?
RSI a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons of the upper limb (hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder) and the neck.
There are upper limb disorders which have recognised signs and symptoms and which can be diagnosed as known diseases. They include:
- carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)
- tendonitis or tenosynovitis
- rotator cuff syndrome,
- epicondylitis (tennis elbow)
- cramp of the hand or forearm
- hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)
Where no diagnosis is possible then clinicians usually apply the term ‘non-specific arm pain’ or ‘non-specific pain syndrome’ instead of RSI.
What causes RSI?
Repetitive movement is not the only risk factor for developing an upper limb disorder. There are other important risk factors:
- Application of sustained and excessive force.
- Carrying out the same activity for long periods without suitable rest breaks.
- Awkward and uncomfortable postures.
- Operation of hand held power tools for long periods.
Occupations at risk
RSI is not limited to office and teleworkers operating computers, keyboards and telephones.
The HSE have reported that skilled construction and building trades are one of the occupations with the highest estimated prevalence of upper limb disorders. Activities such as rebar tying have been noted to give rise to RSI symptoms.
Other sectors known to have a high incidence of RSI are assembly line workers and meat or poultry processors.
Homeworking & RSI
The HSE and WHO (World Health Organisation) have been concerned at the health impact of home working due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The HSE reported that of the 470,000 UK workers reported to be suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder in 2020/21 an estimated 85,000 reported that their condition was caused or made worse by the effects of the pandemic. This could be due to a number of factors including: working longer hours; the use of unsuitable equipment at home; and the mental health impact of the pandemic.
According to data from the business support company NordVPN Teams some UK workers during the pandemic increased their working week by almost 25% to the point where some were logging off at 8pm.
For these reasons the HSE have issued guidance to employers and employees regarding safe practices when home working and the WHO launched a #Beactive campaign.
If you develop symptoms of RSI it is best to take action early as these conditions can become persistent and in some cases, chronic and disabling. You may be able to make adjustments to how you work which may relieve your symptoms. If not, then you should report to your employer and consult your GP.