February 28, 2007
By Saleem Khan, CBC News
The final day of February is marked as International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day. Catherine Fenech of Toronto, an injured worker, launched the annual observance in 2000. The idea was to use the day to increase public attention and corporate and government action on a class of injuries that U.S. and Canadian statistics showed had been on the rise throughout the 1990s and into this century.
What is RSI?
Your View: RSI
Repetitive strain injury is a collective term for a variety of motion-induced, painful, debilitating disorders that result from damage to muscles, nerves and nerves due to prolonged, repeated activity.
It is also sometimes referred to as musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) or repetitive motion injury (RMI).
How many people are affected?
Nobody really knows.
Throughout the 1990s and into the early part of this century, repetitive strain injuries were often referred to as an epidemic on the horizon, amid reports in Canada and the United States that increasing numbers of people were being affected by the painful condition.
But because there is no standardized, national effort in Canada to collect information on these subjects, it is nearly impossible to know how many Canadians are affected by this problem.
In 2003, Statistics Canada reported that one in 10 adults had a RSI serious enough to limit their activities in 2001, suggesting that RSIs affect a growing number of adults.
An estimated 2.3 million people aged 20 or older reported a RSI in the year preceding their participation in the StatsCan survey. Between 1997 and 2001, the number of adults reporting RSI problems due to work-related activities rose to 10 per cent from 8 per cent, an increase of 25 per cent, Statistics Canada found in its survey of 131,000 Canadians.
During the same period, the rate of women experiencing RSIs rose faster than it did for men, resulting in an equal likelihood in 2001 that men and women would report having such an injury.
For women the rate of reported injuries increased to 10.3 per cent in 2001 from 7.9 per cent in 1997, as compared with a rise to 9.9 per cent for men from 8.2 per cent.
The problem of identifying how many Canadians are affected by RSIs is compounded by the manner in which the reports that are made are collected.
Provincial workers compensation boards are the key source of data on RSI statistics in Canada, which presents a problem, according to Andrew Drewczynski, an ergonomist with the Hamilton, Ont.-based Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
"The problem is they are including in their report only compensated cases," he told CBC News Online.
Drewczynski said there is a common view among people who work in the area of RSIs that fewer than half of workers compensation board claims are accepted as legitimate, which has the effect of resulting in further under-reporting of RSIs.
"The real number is probably much higher," he said.
What are some common RSIs?
Tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome are two of the better-known examples of RSI.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition in which the median nerve, which runs from the arm to the hand through a space in the wrist called the carpal tunnel, is compressed by inflamed tendons that surround it.
How is it caused?
Any repetitive motion, shock or vibration the body experiences over a sustained period of time - including those that result from stretching, bending or twisting at unusual angles - can cause an RSI.
Remaining still or supporting weight in the same position for an extended period can also cause an RSI. This is also known as a "static load."
RSI-causing activities can range from hammering nails, twisting to move groceries from a conveyor belt into a bag, or even using a computer keyboard and mouse.
Stress is also a factor.
Who is at risk?
Anyone who engages in a repetitive motion or repeatedly sustains a force or impact - even a minor one - to their body.
The increasing use of computers in the workplace has often been cited as a key cause of rising RSIs suggested by data.
How do I avoid getting an RSI?
Work safe. Ensure your workspace is set up to avoid repetitive actions that could result in an RSI. If your employer has an ergonomist or occupational health expert on staff, ask for guidance on creating a safe work area.
IBM has a handy guide for office workers.
Stay healthy. Exercise, eat right and take care of your health. People in good health are less likely to be susceptible to injuries of any kind.
Get advice. Talk to your doctor or health-care provider for tips on how to best avoid potential RSI-inducing factors that work for you.
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