Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) – What To Do?

Steven, a professional programmer, who spent years working with the mouse and keyboard started feeling pain in the right wrist after about 10 years. He did not pay too much attention and kept on working. But the pain became severe and the doctors informed that his wrists suffered from repetitive strain injury.

Some 1.8 million workers get affected by RSI per year and the annual cost for RSI ranges between $17 billion and $20 billion a year. Repetitive strain injuries are among the most common forms of workplace injuries and costly occupational health problem, affecting thousands of Americans every year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that about two-thirds of the total number of occupational illnesses reported, were caused due to repeated trauma to workers upper body (such as wrist, elbow or shoulder).

What is Repetitive Strain Injury?

A repetitive strain injury is caused as a result of repetitive movements that cause muscle strain and conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Not all workplace injuries result from sudden, isolated events. Some injuries develop over time; repetitive movements performed on a frequent basis lead to RSIs. RSIs can leave a worker feeling tremendous pain and unable to perform routine job tasks and simple functions of daily life.

Some of the many activities that can lead to RSI include:

  • Continuous use of computer and keyboard
  • Bar code scanning
  • Fixed position activities such as prolonged sitting or standing, holding a particular position for a long period of time

Other activities such as prolonged driving, writing, massaging, etc. can also lead to RSIs. The most common forms of RSI include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – Swelling of the tunnel between the bone and ligament in the wrist
  • Tendinitis – Ruptured tissue connecting bones to muscles
  • Tenosynovitis – Inflammation of the sheath surrounding the tendon
  • Myofascial damage – Tenderness and swelling of strained muscles
  • Cervical radiculopathy – Compression of disks in the neck

It is tough to detect an RSI in the developing stage; so most employees or workers notice the symptoms when the condition becomes severe. In case you suspect RSI, you must immediately inform your employer and make a workers’ compensation claim. If your employer denies responsibility, you can file a workers’ compensation lawsuit.

For instance, a book binder in Chicago developed bi-lateral carpel tunnel syndrome from repetitive use of wrists on the assembly line and had surgery on both wrists. His employer refused to take responsibility, which made him file a lawsuit against the employer. The workers compensation lawyer Chicago representing him proved that the injuries were caused due to repetitive nature of work and he was awarded $20,000 in settlement.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits for RSI

Most people believe that they would be entitled to the benefits of workers’ compensation only if they specific and distinct injury at work such as car accident, slip and fall injuries, etc. But employees suffering from RSI may also be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, under certain circumstances. Consult with your lawyer to understand whether you can claim the workers’ compensation or not.

Workers’ compensation offer compensates workers for injuries that happened due to their own faults. But in order to take advantage of the benefits you must be able to prove that the injuries occurred on the job. If you are able to prove it, you will be compensated for the medical expenses, lost wages, etc. Injured workers will continue to get paid for medical expenses even after they return to work.

How to Prevent RSI?

It is true that you can get compensated for RSIs, but it is a lot more reasonable to prevent it altogether. Not only will you suffer from pain and discomfort, you can lose your ability to work as well. Therefore, you must be careful about your work habits and be vigilant about the symptoms.

Here are some practical tips that will help you reduce your risk of developing RSI:

1. Proper Ergonomics
Ergonomics plays an important role in cause and prevention of repetitive strain injuries. Therefore, ensure the workstations are set up appropriately; you maintain good posture while working and use upgraded equipment that ensure reduced risks of RSI.

2. Use Proper Techniques and Rest
Know the right way to use the equipment. Keep your wrist straight and avoid straining the fingers. For instance, if you have to write a lot, make sure you don’t stress your fingers by holding the pen too tightly. Instead hold it lightly so that it can be pulled out while you are writing.

3. Rest and Exercise
Avoid working continuously at a stretch. Take regular breaks and do some form of stretching to relieve the muscles. Simple free hand exercising can also help release the stress. if you are working on computer for long, look away from the screen for some time and blink your eyes vigorously to avoid dryness. Similarly, if you have to scan bar codes continuously, do some hand exercises to feel relaxed.

4. Complying with OSHA Guidelines
OSHA has mandated voluntary ergonomic guidelines for certain industries, so employers must ensure they follow the guidelines. In fact, these guidelines are issued under general provisions of the OSHA law. This means, employers are legally obliged to follow these guidelines in order to maintain a safe workplace.


While it is necessary for the employers to provide a safe working environment for the employees; it is important for the employees to follow some basic rules to prevent potential injuries. Injuries can happen no matter what level of precaution is being taken; but it is best to try hard to avoid practices that can lead to injuries. Stay safe and work safe!

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