Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) are those injuries that are suffered through repetitive motion, extreme motion, and/or excessive force. We are all familiar with “tennis elbow” resulting from playing too much tennis or “runner’s knee” from competing in too many races. But, unless one is a professional athlete, these injuries can be soothed and sometimes even cured by ceasing the offending activity, rest, and ice.
But what if the repetitive motion is an integral part of one’s job? Typing has been linked to carpal tunnel syndrome, which is an inflammation of tissues surrounding the median nerve which provides sensation to the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Tenosynovitis, an inflammation of the sheath that surrounds a tendon connecting muscle to bone usually affecting the hands; and bursitis, an inflammation of the little fluid filled sacs that act as cushioning near the body’s larger joints are generally caused by heavy lifting. Trigger finger/thumb occurs when one’s finger or thumb catches in a bent position, and can be caused by extended gripping, such a long periods of driving gripping the steering wheel.
All of these conditions cause symptoms ranging from moderate discomfort to severe pain, and all of these conditions cost businesses a tremendous amount of money in terms of treatment, time lost, and compensation. The Chattered Society of Physiotherapy estimated that 3.5 million working days are lost annually due to RSI, also known as Work Related Upper Limb Disorder (WRULD).
Symptoms may take weeks, months, or even years to manifest. As soon as symptoms appear, consult a physician, and report the findings to the employer. In the early stages, many of RSI’s can be treated effectively with splints, braces, or cortisone shots. Many of these symptoms can be alleviated through simple environmental changes, such as typing for no longer than an hour before switching to filing, and then switching again to making copies. Breaking up the repetitive activity allows the affected muscles, joints, tendons, and nerves to rest. Switch to a more ergonomic computer setup to relieve strain on the fingers and wrists while typing. Always wear a back brace when lifting. If driving long distance, be certain to allow time to stop, get out of the automobile and stretch.
Most workplaces are very conscious of RSIs, and indeed of their responsibility to assess dangers and provide a safe working environment. Workplaces offer a variety of ways to alleviate the causes of RSI and WRULD. Some of the simpler solutions may include a change of lighting, a re-alignment of office equipment, scheduling more frequent but shorter break periods, and/or the use of assistive technology such as a headset for a receptionist tasked with answering the telephone in order to eliminate the need to pick up and balance a handset.
If, after having been notified by the physician of an employees RSI, the employer feels that no reasonable accommodation can be made in the workplace, the employee may consider engaging the services of a solicitor to protect his rights to work in a safe environment and to ensure that he receives all medical care and treatment to which he is entitled.