Repetitive Strain Injuries in the Workplace

Work-related repetitive motion injuries

Learn how to recognize repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and receive workers’ compensation benefits

What is a repetitive motion injury? Who’s at risk? How are these injuries treated and what compensation is available for work-related repetitive motion injuries?

When most people think about workplace injuries, they think about employees falling from ladders or losing a finger to a saw blade. But workplace accidents are often less dramatic. Some injuries occur gradually over time as a result of repetitive movements and stress.

This article looks at repetitive strain injuries in the workplace, who’s at risk, what treatment is available, and what legal remedies exist.

What are repetitive strain injuries?

Repetitive strain injuries (also called “repetitive stress injuries” or “repetitive motion injuries”) are temporary or permanent injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments, or tendons as a result of performing the same motion over and over.

There are a number of more specific injuries that fall under the RSI umbrella. The most common is carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the nerve that travels from the forearm to the hand becomes compressed by swollen ligaments and tendons.

The average lost work time for carpal tunnel syndrome is 27 days according to @BLS_gov. Tweet this

Other injuries that are considered repetitive motion injuries include:

  • Tenosynovitis
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Bursitis
  • Tendinitis
  • Ganglion

In simple terms, repetitive strain injuries occur as a result of insufficient recovery time between physical demands.

As board-certified occupational health physician Dr. Peter Greaney explains:

“These types of injuries occur when mechanical fatigue in tendons and ligaments cause small tears in the connective tissue. This condition is worsened by the fact that the connective tissue has not repaired itself, yet continues to be placed under stress. The cumulative effect of stress on the region causes the mechanical or chemical activation of pain receptors, resulting in pain and dysfunction.”

What are the symptoms of RSI?

Common symptoms of repetitive motion injuries include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Cramping
  • Sensitivity

Who’s at risk?

Any manual task that requires repetitive movements or working in fixed or awkward positions for long periods of time can trigger a repetitive strain injury. The 4 types of occupations that are particularly at risk are:

  • Office work (such as typing and clerical duties)
  • Process work (such as assembly line and packing duties)
  • Piece work (such as sewing)
  • Manual work (such as bricklaying and carpentry)

Interestingly, recent studies have shown that the onset of repetitive motion injuries may be affected by factors like work satisfaction. People who experience high amounts of psychological stress at work are more likely to develop repetitive motion injuries than those who don’t experience high amounts of stress.

People who experience psychological stress at work are more likely to develop work-related repetitive strain injuries.
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What treatment is available?

Minor repetitive motion injuries can be treated with home remedies, such as:

  • Rest
  • Ice packs
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers

For repetitive strain injuries that are more serious, the following may be necessary:

  • Physical rehabilitation. Physical rehabilitation for repetitive stress injuries may include occupational therapy, exercise programs to stretch and strengthen the area, condition exercises to prevent further injury, pain management techniques, and education regarding proper ergonomics for the workplace.
  • Surgery. A surgical procedure that can improve tendon health may be necessary. Damaged tendons can be removed to promote the formation of healthy tissue and, in certain cases, surgeons can repair tendon tears to reduce pain and restore function.

RSI prevention

The best way to avoid repetitive strain injuries is to implement good ergonomics in your workplace. Ergonomics is a science concerned with designing and arranging things people use to avoid occupational injury. Egonomics looks at the design of tools, equipment, workstations, and job tasks.

The following are examples of “good” ergonomics:

  • Adjusting a workstation to fit a specific task
  • Properly locating bins so workers can place products in the bins rather than tossing the products
  • Mechanical supports to eliminate the use of extreme force
  • Varying the speeds of conveyor belts so certain activities can be performed at slower rates
  • Adjusting a seat so that it’s tilted slightly forward to encourage good posture

In addition, the following more general tasks can help prevent repetitive strain injuries:

  • Report early symptoms before they get worse
  • Ease back into work after a vacation
  • Maintain good general health and fitness
  • Take regular breaks
Enjuris tip: To learn more about ergonomics and solutions for specific occupations, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ergonomics webpage.

What to do if you suffer a repetitive work injury

If you suspect you’ve suffered a repetitive motion injury because of work, you should take the following 3 steps:

Step 1: Seek out a medical provider. The most important thing for you to do is seek medical attention the moment that repetitive motion injury symptoms appear. By seeking medical attention early, you may be able to avoid developing a more serious injury.

In addition, you’ll want to start creating a medical record in the event that you have to file a workers’ compensation claim or personal injury lawsuit down the road.

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Step 2: Tell your employer. The law requires that employers identify and correct hazards such as those that lead to repetitive strain injuries. An employer can’t fix the problem if they’re not aware that a problem exists in the first place.

Step 3. Consult with an attorney. If you’ve suffered a repetitive motion injury at work, you may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation laws, which vary by state, are designed to ensure that employees who are injured at work receive compensation without having to file lawsuits against their employers. In general, workers’ compensation pays medical expenses and wage loss benefits.

Most injuries are covered so long as the injury occurred during the course of employment. What’s more, even if your injury existed before you started work, you may be able to recover compensation if the pre-existing injury was temporarily or permanently aggravated by a work-related task.

There are, however, strict requirements that must be followed in order to receive workers’ compensation claims. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help make sure you get the compensation you deserve for your repetitive strain injury.