‘RSI’ was the acronym on everyone’s lips in the 1980s. So why do we hear it so rarely these days? Physiotherapist Jane Banting explains.
The term RSI stands for ‘repetitive strain injury’ and was indeed a hot topic in health professional circles, factories and offices in the 1980s. The media had a field day with it: headlines screamed “Crippled by RSI!!” in myriad reports on process
workers and computer/data processing operators apparently suffering an increasing incidence of neck, upper body and arm injuries as a result of the repetitive nature of their work. So does the problem still arise? Yes, although with less severity, less frequency and a new name – ‘overuse injuries’.
What causes overuse injuries?
The main causes of overuse injuries in the upper body are:
– repetitive tasks (computer keyboard and mouse usage, repetitive tasks in factory work, playing tennis and golf)
– sustained poor posture when seated or standing
– lack of rest breaks.
Why are they less frequent today?
There has been significant improvement in the work environment, with better workstation design and readier access to advice regarding good posture and stretches. Further, changes in the workers’ compensation system have resulted in early reporting of injuries, and readier acceptance by employers of their responsibilities. These days, workers rarely hide their injuries. However, the 21st century has given rise to new risks.
Most households have at least one computer. With the increased use of the internet and email, prolonged computer usage at night after returning from work is common. Laptops are often used on a plane, couch or bed, or with the user sitting at the kitchen bench. This can result in poor posture and greater risk of developing an overuse injury.
What are the most common
‘Overuse injury’ (or RSI) is actually an umbrella term for a collection of different injuries. In the upper body/arms these include:
– headaches, neck and upper back pain, caused by tight joints, muscles and nerves
– rotator cuff strain of the shoulder, involving the tendons
– inflammation of the muscles and tendons of the elbow and wrist (golfer’s or tennis elbow)
– inflammation of the nerves that travel from the neck/upper back down to the fingertips.
The keys to reducing the risks of developing overuse injuries are:
– good work posture, with proper use of an ergonomic chair
– good workplace practices, such as ensuring you take regular rest breaks (and use them to do gentle muscle stretches) and lunch breaks
– checking that your workstations at work and home are set up properly.
When to seek help
Watch out for increased frequency of pain, pins and needles or numbness in the neck, head or arms that affect your work or sporting performance, home activities or sleep pattern. If these symptoms arise, seek the help of an experienced health
practitioner, as ignoring them will only make the problem worse.