9 Tips to Avoid Repetitive Strain Injuries at Work

9 Tips to Avoid Repetitive Strain Injuries at Work

It’s no secret that desk jobs and occupations requiring repetitive tasks are leading to strain and pain. In fact, recent statistics place repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) as one of the most common and growing occupational-related injuries with one-third of all work absence cases involving a musculoskeletal injury, a classification that includes RSIs, according to reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Increased responsibilities as a result of technological efficiencies, quicker paces, tighter deadlines, and more are all bound to increase that rate if we don’t change the ways in which we approach our work.

Because an RSI develops gradually over time, the symptoms often go unnoticed until it’s too late to avoid the injury altogether. If they are left untreated, RSIs can have a significant impact on one’s standard of life, particularly as a result of extreme and debilitating pain and reduced range of motion that can significantly affect day-to-day tasks and render the employee unable to complete their responsibilities while on the job. What measures can be taken to avoid a repetitive stress injury at work?

How to Optimize Your Workstation to Avoid RSIs

Anyone whose occupation requires them to remain seated or standing in the same or similar position for extended periods or perform the same task with limited motion is at a higher risk of developing an RSI. The best course for injury prevention in many cases is designing an ergonomic workstation that prioritizes proper posture. Ideally, a workstation should be designed to adapt to standing or sitting to allow you to mix it up and keep your body limber and pain-free.

For those who work at a desk for most of the day, consider the following notes to improve posture:

  • Starting with your chair, opt for an option with a backrest that offers lumbar (lower back) support and allows the back to maintain its natural S-curve. A chair that offers an adjustable back is even better for customizing your seat to your body.
  • Ensure the height of your chair allows your upper arms to remain vertical and straight, bending at the elbow at a 90-degree angle when using a keyboard or mouse. Your mouse should be close to your keyboard to prevent having to outstretch your arm to the side.
  • Feet should be flat on the floor and feel supported. Opt for a footrest if needed to ensure proper chair height and limited strain on your wrists and forearms.
  • If needed, place your computer screen on a stand to ensure that the center of the screen is at the same height as your eyes so you don’t have to tilt your head or strain your neck.

As for occupations that require a lot of standing, posture is still a priority. As much as possible, keep your head, shoulders, hips, and feet aligned. Use an anti-fatigue mat to reduce strain on the feet, knees, and back and take regular breaks to move and stretch. If using cleaning tools, opt for extension poles or handles that are long enough to prevent excessive hunching or bending over.

Stretches for RSI Prevention

A simple stretch each hour or so while you’re working or performing repetitive tasks can go a long way in preventing RSIs, while fitting in a yoga class between shifts can benefit both muscle strengthening and weight loss. Easily fit these stretches into mini-breaks during work or use them as a tool to relieve tension outside of work hours.

  • The Wrist Twist: For those who use their arms and wrists a lot, try stretching and exercising the pronator and supinator muscles (the ones in your forearm that allow you to twist your wrist). To stretch these, simply bend your wrist inward, toward your body, with your arm at your side, then slowly bend the wrist outward, away from the body. Hold each stretch for 10 seconds and repeat on the opposite wrist. You may also massage your forearm to relieve tension.
  • The Wall Stretch: This stretch is best if you’re feeling strain in the arms, hands, and shoulders. First, stand facing a flat wall that doesn’t have any obstructions (furniture or decor), getting as close as you can with your feet straight. Next, extend your right arm out to your side and place your palm flat against the wall, fingers outstretched and your upper arm parallel to the floor while keeping your palm and forearm flat on the wall. Next, slightly twist your torso to the left direction, opening the chest and keeping hips squared to the wall until you feel a good stretch. Hold for a minute, then repeat with your left arm, twisting your torso to the right.
  • The Wrist Stretch: This stretch is best for those who work at a computer a lot, do more minute tasks with their hands, or those experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome. Start by extending your right arm straight out in front of your body with your whole arm parallel to the floor and palm facing upward. Using your left hand, gently pull your right-hand fingers downward, still keeping your right arm parallel to the floor, until the palm is facing forward and you feel a stretch in your forearm. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds, then release and repeat on the opposite arm.

Additional Tips for Preventing RSIs at Work

Tips for preventing RSIs at work will understandably vary by occupation. The following is a sample of what you might be able to adapt, depending on what repetitive movements you may perform at work, to prevent an injury. Start by incorporating any tips you feel may relieve some strain and pain for you, based on the demands of your job. 

  • Exercise regularly to build muscle strength, particularly in areas at higher risk of RSIs. To improve posture, focusing on strengthening both back and core muscles. In fact, you can even try these exercises to strengthen your core at your desk.
  • Take mini breaks each hour to stand, walk around, march in place, wiggle your fingers, or do some stretches like the ones we outlined above. Generally speaking, you should take a short break at least every hour.
  • Always lift with your knees, keeping the load close to the body and moving smoothly and slowly. If you’re straining, reduce the weight of the load. Use dollies or carts when possible to reduce unnecessary strain. The trauma of lifting heavy loads can easily lead to an RSI, regardless of fitness level, so be smart and restrain from heavy lifting whenever possible.
  • Try not to grip tools too tightly if possible. For frequent drivers, keep a loose grip on the wheel to avoid straining your wrists and arms.
  • Change things up if you’re able. Rotate tasks or split your time between working on a computer and sorting papers. Be flexible in your workflow. If you need to talk to someone in the office, considering walking over to their desk to chat rather than sending an email or making a phone call.
  • For those who work in colder climates or factories, try incorporating some warm-up exercises to get muscles ready for the job and reduce strain.

Taking It One Step Further

If your company has a Human Resources (HR) Manager or designated health and safety representative, tap into their expertise on this topic for customized tips. Your HR manager will also be able to offer  details on what additional treatments may be covered under your company’s health benefits plan for treating or preventing RSIs. 

While ergonomic workstations, stretching, regular breaks, and changes in tasks can certainly help to prevent RSIs, everybody is different. What works for one may not work for you. If an RSI does set in, be sure to take appropriate measures to properly treat and heal your injury. There are many types of healing technologies for soft tissue injuries, some of which include splinting or compression bands, physiotherapy, massage therapy, and radio frequency-based soft tissue injury treatments that help to accelerate healing and improve range of motion as compared to physiotherapy alone. One of the most reliable radio frequency-based treatments is Venus Heal™. 

With the Venus Heal™ device, three therapeutic modes of action—each proven in their own right to effectively target soft tissue injuries like RSIs—are combined into one powerful treatment. Whether used alone or as part of a holistic treatment plan, quick and comfortable Venus Heal™ treatments can help you return to the job faster without risking further soft tissue damage. To get all the details or to see if this treatment will work for you, simply use the search field below to locate a provider in your area.

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