Repetitive Strain Injuries: What They Are, and How to Avoid Them

Repetitive Strain Injuries: What They Are, and How to Avoid Them
Dr. Jen Palmer, ND

Medically reviewed by Dr. Jen Palmer, ND -  Naturopathic Doctor

We all know that work is difficult; it’s why we call it work. However, what you may not be aware of is how that work may be causing injuries that make work much more challenging. Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as “Injuries involving strain which develop, or build up over time.”

These types of work-place injuries affect approximately 1.8 million American workers every year. RSIs cost companies millions of dollars in lost productivity while simultaneously causing pain and potentially long-term employee issues. Like most health problems, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Let's take a closer look at repetitive strain injuries, common causes, and how to cope with them should they arise.

What is a Repetitive Strain Injury?

If you work in an environment that frequently requires doing the same task, you may have already dealt with a repetitive strain injury. Nature didn’t design the human body to continuously perform the same ranges of motion constantly for eight to twelve hours. However, given the nature of the modern workplace, many employees find themselves in this predicament.

When muscles, joints, and tendons constantly flex in the same fashion, they are subject to wear and tear. This persistent strain on the body can eventually lead to an RSI. While many workers acknowledge physically challenging jobs requiring manual labor can cause injury, sedentary office jobs can also negatively affect employees.

What are Some of the Common Causes of Repetitive Strain Injury?

So, what exactly causes repetitive strain injuries? When we think of the modern office setting, computer work often comes to mind. Excessive amounts of typing, mouse manipulation, and sitting (yes, believe it or not, you can actually become injured from sitting) are the most common RSI causes. The RSI that most are familiar with is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome affects 5% of the workforce that uses their hands to type and manipulate computers daily.

In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis is a painful RSI that often affects the hands and feet. Tenosynovitis is inflammation of the synovium, a fluid-filled sheath that surrounds a tendon. While more common in the wrist for workers such as package handlers and freight workers, tenosynovitis can also occur in an office setting or less physically intense manual labor settings.

Please read our blog post on hand pain to learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome conditions and how to relieve the pain associated with them.

How can Repetitive Strain Injury be Prevented?

Being aware of the causes of common RSIs is the first step in their prevention. If you think you’re at risk for an RSI, then interrupting the pattern of strain from time to time with exercises that counteract their root causes is crucial. For instance, there are dozens of hand exercises with carpal tunnel that can be helpful in its prevention. Some of the most effective exercises are as simple as closing and opening the fist or fanning fingers out as far as possible to stretch the tendons; you can find a comprehensive list of these exercises here.

For lower back injuries due to prolonged sitting, standing desks are an excellent way to avoid back pain. If your workplace is unsuited for a standing desk, several software programs and apps are designed to remind you to stand and move about while at work to prevent tightness in the lower back, legs, and shoulders.

I’ve Developed a Repetitive Strain Injury, Now What?

If you already have an RSI, what are the next steps? First, it's important to know what type of RSI you are coping with, so make sure to get a medical professional diagnosis. Next, use the following treatments to help relieve the pain associated with RSI:

How do I relieve the pain associated with RSI?

  • Physical Rehabilitation
    • In a rehabilitation program, occupational therapists will create a detailed program specific to the RSI diagnosed to help alleviate symptoms and strengthen the affected areas with range-of-motion exercises.
  • Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE)
    • One of the oldest and yet one of the most effective methods of symptom relief is RICE. Rest the affected area, use ice, Physical Rehabilitation
  • Stress Reduction and Meditation
    • Stress is a large contributor to many RSIs. Practicing meditation and breathing exercises can positively impact the speed and efficacy of a patient's recovery.
  • Topical Pain Relief
    • Products like CBDMEDIC™ Arthritis Aches & Pain Relief Ointment from Charlotte's Web can be applied to the affected joints or muscles to temporarily reduce minor discomfort associated with RSIs. These products combine CBD's skin-conditioning benefits with over-the-counter pain relievers like menthol for relief from the pain associated with RSI.

Work is hard enough on its own without a workplace-related injury to increase its difficulty. Unfortunately, due to the nature of modern occupations, repetitive strain injuries are more and more common. It's best to avoid these work-place injuries altogether by using best practices when performing repetitive tasks like typing, mouse manipulation, package handling, and other tedious labor.

If you suspect that you’ve developed a repetitive strain injury, it's important to consult with a healthcare practitioner to obtain an accurate diagnosis before symptoms worsen. A proactive approach to rehabilitating the injury is often the most effective route to recovery. While recovering from an RSI, consider using CBDMEDIC™ products like our ointments for pain relief in the areas you need it most. For more information, read how CBDMEDICTM products can help with back pain, take a look at all of our CBDMEDICTM products, or contact us directly.