Repetitive strain injury, a painful condition that is costly to workers compensation boards, plagues an estimated 2.3 million adult Canadians, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

A repetitive strain injury is a group of disorders usually caused by repetitive movements affecting the muscles, tendons and nerves. Unlike other injuries, which occur at a single point in time, RSIs develop over an extended period.

StatsCan's 2000-01 survey questioned 113,000 Canadians about their health. Researchers asked whether people had suffered an RSI that restricted their normal personal activities in the past 12 months.

The agency first began collecting data on RSIs in 1996-97. Since then, the prevalence increased from eight per cent to 10 per cent, affecting an estimated one in 10 Canadians aged 20 or older.

Two years later, those who reported pain and psychological distress continued to say they had symptoms.

The agency found working, itself, did not increase the likelihood of an RSI. "However, among those who did work, the type of job mattered," the report said. "Least likely to be injured were people in management."

Rather than seeking jobs in management, analyst Michael Tjepkema of StatsCan suggested people focus on prevention by applying ergonomic principles and staying aware of any symptoms.

Men and women appeared to respond differently.

"People who reported at least some work stress were generally more likely to report an RSI in 2000-01 than were those who reported no work stress," wrote Tjepkema, of the agency's health statistics branch.

  • try not to bend, extend or twist your wrists for long periods
  • don't work with your arms too close to or too far from your body
  • switch hands when you do tasks
  • take regular breaks
  • don't let your wrists rest on hard surfaces for a long time
  • adjust the height of your chair so that your forearms are level with your keyboard and you don't have to flex your wrists to type
  • "This relationship was especially pronounced for women," even allowing for other factors. "The association between workplace stress and RSI did not hold for men, however, once the same factors were taken into consideration."

    "We know stress is associated with RSI," he said. "It plays an important part of the equation," but a cross-sectional survey can't reveal if stress increases RSI or vice-versa.