Repetitive Strain Injury
Also known as Work Related Upper Limb Disorder (WRULD), Musculo-Skeletal Disorder
More than ever before, a vast number of us spend our working days in front of computers; education and recreation are also now increasingly spent at a computer desk though relatively few of us are aware of the hazard of Repetitive Strain Injury that could stem from such a lifestyle. Repetitive Strain Injury (known as RSI) can occur to the hands and arms of computer users from the usage of keyboards and mice. This serious and painful condition is difficult to heal once you have it, and it is truly a much easier condition to prevent! There is a significant chance that once a person contracts RSI, their computer career is in jeopardy; often RSI sufferers are unable to perform the simplest tasks such as driving or even dressing themselves.
Each year, tens of thousands of U.S. workers sustain repetitive motion injuries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 73,195 repetitive motion injuries, including tendinosis and carpal tunnel syndrome, in private industry in 1999. This number translates to about 1 out of every 1250 full-time workers that year.
If you work at a computer or perform any operation where you repeat the same small hand and arm movements over very long periods, you can develop symptoms of RSI. RSI is very painful and debilitating - treatment is definitely required, and the earlier you start, the better your chances of a full recovery. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is often linked to RSI injuries although CTS makes up only a small percentage of computer use injuries.
RSI can damage various parts of the body; if RSI is derived from computer usage, it will probably arise as a specific medical problem - probably one of the following:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
compression on median nerve
- Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
pain in elbow region, paresthesia (tingling, prickling or numbness) in ring and small fingers
- Dupuytrens Contracture (aka Morbus Dupuytren)
forced curling of fingers
area where muscle joins bone
- Paratenonitis (peritendonitis, tenosynovitis, tenovaginitis)
painful swelling of the tendon sheath
inflamed, acute injury to the tendon
this means a non-specific tendon injury
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
many symptoms including puffiness and fatigue in arms and hands, parasthesia in neck, shoulder arm and hand
chronic degeneration of the tendon without inflammation
- Writers Cramp
cramping pain in hand and/or forearm
All of these medical conditions are serious. Advanced cases of many of the listed conditions above can cause intense pain and permanent disability.
Please know that symptoms can differ quite a bit from case to case, and this is not a complete list of symptoms! Please visit your physician to confirm that the symptoms you are experiencing are indeed caused by RSI, as there may be a host of other dangerous injuries that can match these symptoms. Only your doctor can truly be able to determine the real cause of your symptoms.
Common RSI symptoms include (but are not limited to:
- Discomfort, tightness, stiffness, soreness or a burning sensation in the hands, wrists, fingers forearms or elbows
- Tingling and numbness in the neck, shoulder region, arm and hand
- Difficulty with fine motor tasks of the hand
- Muscle weakness and atrophy of the gripping muscles (long finger flexors) and small muscles of the hand (thenar and intrinsics)
- Bluish discoloration of the hand
- Swelling or puffiness in the arm or hand
- Easily fatigued arms and hands
- A continuous desire to massage the hands, wrist or forearm
- Pain in the upper back
- Deep pain in the neck and shoulder region which seems to increase at night
What If I Think I Have RSI?
If you are consistently experiencing the pain of RSI, go visit your physician as soon as possible. Putting off this visit and delaying treatment could cost you extra years of trouble; early diagnosis and treatment is critical to limiting damage and short recovery time. Know that RSI is a catch-all term for many various medical injuries, and as such, treatment varies hugely from person to person.
Healing RSI problems is possible, but understand that it will take months and possibly even years. Know that healing is a long term consideration, so see your doctor asap and once you get on to a course of treatment - stick with it and don't give up!!
A Good RSI Study
A recent study found that computer-related repetitive motion injuries are even more common than previously thought. The study followed 632 newly hired employees who used computers for at least 15 hours per week on the job. For 3 years, the study participants logged their computer usage hours and any symptoms they had. Those who reported symptoms were examined by a physician to diagnose the problem.
Each year, more than half of the study participants experienced neck and shoulder pain, and just over one third of the participants had the neck and shoulder problem develop into a disorder involving impairment or some loss of function. Hand and arm pain was experienced by 39% of the study participants each year, and 21% of the participants had the hand/arm pain develop into a full-blown disorder. Women were more likely than men to sustain injuries. Only about 1% of the study participants developed carpal tunnel syndrome in their first year on the job. The most common hand/arm injury was what the study called de Quervain's tendinitis.
Given these results, you should be especially careful if you use computers 15 hours or more per week. Be sure to use good preventative measures, and be alert for symptoms. You can find lots of information on RSI prevention in the websites given on the RSI Groups and Links page.
Gerr F, Marcus M, Ensor C, Kleinbaum D, Cohen S, Edwards A, Gentry E, Ortiz DJ, Monteilh C. A prospective study of computer users: I. Study design and incidence of musculoskeletal symptoms and disorders. Am J Ind Med;Apr:41(4):221-35, 2002.