Whether your job involves sitting down at a desk all day or moving around and working with your hands, we are all equally susceptible to the aches, pains, and muscle stiffness that can arise through Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs). Both sedentary and active work styles can lead to RSIs, and activities that can increase their risk include:

  • Straining the same muscles through repeated actions
  • Maintaining the same posture for long periods without a break
  • Long periods of abnormal posture without a break
  • Lifting heavy objects repeatedly

No matter your occupation, ergonomic breaks to stretch your muscles are vital to long-term health.

RSIs most frequently occur in the wrists, hands, elbows, neck, and back. Symptoms can include mild to severe pain, swelling, stiffness, and weakness. Given that most employees face repetitive movements or a sedentary work environment in their jobs, it can be easy to develop an RSI without preventative action.

Additionally, RSIs can create the risk for re-injury or chronic flare-ups. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology agree that the most significant injury predictor is a previous injury of the same type in the same location. For example, if you develop tendonitis in the elbow, commonly known as “tennis elbow,” and make a full recovery by treating it through physiotherapy, you will be more likely to develop the same injury in the future. For this reason, RSIs are a frequent culprit of short-term disability claims in the workplace.

The primary treatment for Repetitive Strain Injuries typically involves Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) immediately after the injury occurs. If you suspect you have an injury, you should consult a medical professional for injury recovery. Further treatment may involve steroid injections, anti-inflammatory drugs, physiotherapy, and therapeutic exercises.

Taking time each day for a stretch break is an excellent way to lower your risk of developing an RSI. A few short breaks to move around and stretch can improve your mobility, decrease your risk of developing an RSI, and increase productivity. Here are two simple stretches you can try at your desk:

Seated spinal rotation

    • While seated, cross your arms over your chest
    • Grab your shoulders
    • Rotate your upper body from the waist, turning gently from left to right as far as feels comfortable. Pay special attention to the core, squeeze through abdominals to help with the twist
    • You should feel some sensation on each side of your lower back as it stretches out

Shoulder extension

    • Stand up and stretch your arms out behind you
    • Clasp your hands together and gently lift your arms
    • If you cannot reach your hands behind your back, try holding a towel or neck tie behind you, bringing your hands as close together on the fabric as you can
    • You should feel your shoulders and chest stretching

Practicing stretches consistently throughout your workday, particularly those recommended by a medical professional, can help you develop a marked improvement in mobility to prevent RSIs in the future. You can read more about Repetitive Strain Injuries at the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology or the American College of Sports Medicine.

Promoting wellness in the workplace is one of the best ways to decrease disability claims. To learn more about our Return to Health® program and services, click here.