The Most Common Repetitive Stress Injuries in the Workplace, and How to Prevent Them

A repetitive stress injury is a result of cumulative mini-traumas to the body’s soft tissue or tendons. Just about any repetitive movements or prolonged fixed position can contribute to stress injuries. Depending on the severity of the damage, these injuries can impact one’s ability to perform certain tasks and may even require surgery.

When most people think of workplace injuries, they think of severe injuries incurred in physical lines of work like manufacturing, mining, or farming. However, many desk-sitting employees find themselves suffering from repetitive stress injuries every year. Fortunately, repetitive stress injuries are covered under workers’ compensation in New Jersey. Here’s a look at some of the most frequently-reported stress injuries, and how they can be prevented in your workplace.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This injury is caused by excess pressure on the median nerve, which runs down the arm and through the wrist, controlling sensation and movement in the thumb and first three fingers. Repeated hand and wrist movements, such as those made by workers on an assembly line, can increase the sensitivity of the median nerve and result in pain, tingling, and weakness. This can also be caused by excessive typing or writing, particularly if the worker’s desk is at an improper height for their hands.

Bursitis

Bursitis is a painful condition that affects the small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the body’s joints. It affects knees, shoulders, elbows, and hips and is caused by overuse. Heavy lifting often puts excess strain on the shoulder, often leading to bursitis.

Tendonitis

This condition causes swelling of tendons in the body, usually in the hands, elbows, and shoulders. Overused tendons become swollen, which can lead to tears and inflammation. Symptoms include pain and lack of mobility in the area, which gradually increases in severity if the condition isn’t treated. Tendonitis is often a result of tasks related to carpentry, cleaning, painting, and gardening.

De Quervain’s Disease

This disease creates inflammation of two tendons that control the movement of the thumb. It causes pain and swelling at the base of the thumb and into the lower arm. This condition can affect a worker’s ability to grip objects. It can be caused by any repetitive hand or wrist movements.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

This condition is caused by compression of nerves that run through the space between the lower neck and first rib. In addition to poor posture, repetitive movements like typing, lifting, and working on an assembly line can contribute to thoracic outlet syndrome. Symptoms include pain in the shoulders and neck and numbness in the fingers.

Preventing Repetitive Stress Injuries 

Ergonomics play an important role in the cause and prevention of work-related injuries. This is the study of how people interact with their physical environment. It uses scientific knowledge about objects, systems, and environments to maximize productivity and minimize injuries. Improper ergonomics is the primary cause of repetitive stress injuries across many jobs. 

Employees should be trained in proper ergonomics, which includes keeping the wrists in a neutral position (straight), elbows down by the sides, and the shoulders back, while sitting up straight. Consider hiring an ergonomics consultant to help determine what changes to make, in order to ensure that your employees’ jobs will not cause them any further physical pain.

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