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Reach. Grab. Repeat. Repetitive Stress Injuries at Work

By Martha Michael

In the case of work injuries, do-overs aren't a good thing.

There are more than 100 types of workplace induced illnesses and physical injuries outlined by the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, or OSHA. A document on the OSHA website says that repetitive stress injuries, or RSIs, may result from:

  • Repetitive motion
  • Force
  • Awkward posture
  • Heavy lifting
  • A combination of the above

The report says that one in four injuries or illnesses causing lost time at work are the result of RSIs. Of those recorded, 65 percent involved backs and 32 percent involved upper extremities.

Three causes of these types of injuries are outlined in the OSHA document.

Speed on the Line

Using poultry processing as an example, the report estimates the rise in demand for lean meat has been responsible for an increase in the rate of RSIs among its workers. In the 1980s and ‘90s the allowable rate of speed rose to 91 chickens per minute, up from approximately 50. Due to automation, some employee tasks have grown more limited and repetitive, causing an increase in injury, pain and impairment.

Intensive Keying

Referring to a case study of an employee who lost use of her left hand due to a job involving keying, the OSHA report says she was treated, to no avail, with physical therapy, wrist braces, and anti-inflammatory drugs. After leaving her job temporarily, it was physical and occupational therapy that helped her regain the use of her hand, with a continued practice of daily applying of ice, heat and self-massage to her arm.

Repetitive and Heavy Lifting

Citing the case of a driver whose employer more than doubled the weight limit on boxes, changing it to 150 pounds, the report analyzed the back injuries associated with a job involving lifting. Surgery resulted from the debilitating injury that occurred when his back snapped.


A chiropractic expert should be consulted – by individuals or companies – to bring incidents of repetitive stress injuries down.

If you’ve already suffered a workplace injury, an appointment with your chiropractor will offer you an assessment of your specific injuries, as well as the development of a treatment plan. Your chiropractor will likely have advice for you relating to posture, along with suggested stretches and exercises to strengthen or relax your muscles, depending on the need.

Treatment options for RSI, according to NHS Choices, the largest health website in the UK, could include cold packs, elastic supports or splints, in addition to hand therapies.

At the same time, discuss with your chiropractor some possible changes to diminish the risk of future injury. There are benefits to investing in ergonomic workplace furniture or better devices for use with your computer mouse.

If you’ve suffered an SRI already, you’d be wise to take the good advice and run with it to mitigate future injury. There’s a risk to ignoring it, and you definitely don’t want to repeat it.


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