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More than wear & tear: Repetitive strain injuries at work

Workplace injuries are not always the catastrophic accidents that make headlines. In many cases the injury stems from a lifetime of repeated motions.

For workers facing increasing aches and pains, the problem could actually be a repetitive strain injury (RSI). These types of injuries impact the soft tissues of hands, arms, neck, back and shoulders. The injuries are often progressive, resulting in crippling pain and limited use.

Simple movements over and over

An RSI is most often caused by awkward or forceful movements made by the worker over a period of time. The action that leads to a RSI does not need to be hazardous or physically straining on its own. Rather, it is the repetition of the action for prolonged periods that causes the strain.

Workers in industries that require heavy lifting or the use of a computer are prone to RSIs. Also, workers in production and factory line jobs that require repetitive movements are susceptible to a RSI. However, anyone that repeats movements for a large portion of the workday can get a RSI.

Symptoms and treatment

RSIs damage soft tissues, so symptoms include pain and tightness, stiffness and swelling. For injuries such as tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome, symptoms include numbness, tingling and lessened grip strength. An RSI injury is not limited to a single area of the body and multiple body parts can be impacted at once.

Treatment of RSIs differs based on the severity and the body area affected. In many cases, stretching exercises and frequent breaks are recommended. Depending on the type of worked performed, simple ergonomic adjustments can lessen symptoms.

Part of the difficulty in identifying RSIs is that the symptoms are often thought of as normal aches and pains that accompany aging and general use. If you are concerned about a RSI, speak to your physician and employer. RSIs are a legitimate workplace injury, but workers' compensation insurance companies often make recovery difficult. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can guide you through the process.

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