RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) describes the symptoms that occur from the overuse of muscles and tendons. Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) is another term used for the same condition.
Another well-known term is Tennis Elbow when the injury is caused by overuse of the arm, forearm, and hand muscles, resulting in elbow pain. Although initially associated with tennis players it can be caused by repetitive movements associated with employment duties. Tennis elbow specifically involves the area where the muscles and tendons of the forearm attach to the outside bony area (the lateral epicondyle) of the elbow. Your doctor may call this condition lateral epicondylitis.
What Causes RSI?
What is the cause of your pain/injury? In essence, repetitive movements. The repeated use of the same body movements causes inflammation and damage to the soft tissues (muscles, nerves, tendons etc.)
RSI has been prevalent in the workplace since the industrial revolution and use of scientific management studies in the workplace. Scientific Management focuses on increasing efficiency in the workplace, often through experiments in methods of work and production, especially time-and- motion studies. This often results in the simplification of employment duties to a small number of repetitive tasks performed over and over by the one employee. This can result in employees who perform the same tasks each day over and over developing pain or RSI.
What Employment Duties Can Cause RSI?
Many factors can contribute to the development of RSI including:-
- Working with equipment that doesn’t fit your body
- Working too fast
- Not having enough recovery breaks
- Holding your muscles in the same position for a long time
- Lack of training in the safest way to carry out a task
- Lack of variety in the type of work you do
- Working in cold conditions
Due to the nature of the work some industries are more prone to their workers suffering RSI then others. The most common industries for RSI injuries include the auto and auto parts industries, mining, smelting, hospitality, trucking and driving, retail, wholesale, health care, packaging, building, clerical, cleaning, computing, and entertainment (musicians in particular). And of course spending hours in front of a computer, increases the risk of developing RSI.
How Do I Know if I Have RSI?
Workers are most prone to injury to their backs, shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and feet.
Symptoms of RSI include any of the following:
- Burning, aching or shooting pain.
- Tremors, clumsiness and numbness.
- Fatigue or lack of strength.
- Weakness in the hands or forearms, making it difficult to perform tasks.
- Difficulty with normal activities like opening doors, chopping vegetables, turning on a tap.
- Chronically cold hands, particularly the fingertips.
You may think at first these signs relate to you being tired or fatigued. You may have some soreness, tingling or discomfort in the neck, arms, wrists, fingers or shoulders. Take note if you experience these symptoms whilst you are performing your employment duties. Notably your symptoms may disappear when you stop the activity. It may take only a few hours for the symptoms to settle, or it may take as long as a couple of days. Unfortunately, over time a minor RSI can turn into a chronic injury. Extra stress in your work, or taking fewer breaks can make your symptoms much more severe and long term.
What If I think My Work Duties Are Causing My RSI?
You can approach your employer about rotating your duties and ensuring your work station is correctly set up. Ensure you have appropriate breaks and pace your work appropriately. If you work at a computer try to stretch and stand regularly.
You should also seek medical treatment from your medical practitioner. Often the best treatment is rest. As with any workplace injury you are entitled to lodge a WorkCover Claim Form. You should also consider obtaining legal advice to assist you with completing your WorkCover claim form.
Is My Employer Responsible for my Injury?
Due to the risk of injury to employees, employers have an obligation to reduce the risk of injury through good workplace practices and systems of work. In addition statutory duties are imposed on each and every employer as outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007.
How is an RSI injury treated by WorkCover?
As with all workplace injuries you are entitled to a number of benefits under the WorkCover scheme once you establish your injury is related to your employment. You are entitled to medical treatment and other like benefits if reasonable and necessary. If you need time off work due to your injury you should receive weekly benefits.
Depending on the extent of your injury you may also be entitled to a lump sum benefit. However, RSI injuries can be complex. As lump sum entitlements are dependent on the extent of your injury you would be best served by discussing your claim with a solicitor, as soon as possible to obtain the best outcome possible.